Cancer/testis antigens: from serology to mRNA cancer vaccine

Semin Cancer Biol. 2021 Nov;76:218-231. doi: 10.1016/j.semcancer.2021.04.016. Epub 2021 Apr 25.


Cancer/testis antigens (CTAs) are a group of tumor antigens expressed in numerous cancer tissues, as well as in the testis and placental tissues. There are over 200 CTAs supported by serology and expression data. The expression patterns of CTAs reflect the similarities between the processes of gametogenesis and tumorigenesis. It is notable that CTAs are highly expressed in three types of cancers (lung cancer, bladder cancer, and skin cancer), all of which have a metal etiology. Here, we review the expression, regulation, and function of CTAs and their translational prospects as cancer biomarkers and treatment targets. Many CTAs are highly immunogenic, tissue-specific, and frequently expressed in cancer tissues but not under physiological conditions, rendering them promising candidates for cancer detection. Some CTAs are associated with clinical outcomes, so they may serve as prognostic biomarkers. A small number of CTAs are membrane-bound, making them ideal targets for chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells. Mounting evidence suggests that CTAs induce humoral or cellular immune responses, providing cancer immunotherapeutic opportunities for T-cell receptors (TCRs), CAR T cell, antibody-based therapy and peptide- or mRNA-based vaccines. Indeed, CTAs are the dominating non-mutated targets in mRNA cancer vaccine development. Clinical trials on CTA TCR and vaccines have shown effectiveness, safety, and tolerance, but these successes are limited to a small number of patients. In-depth studies on CTA expression and function are needed to improve CTA-based immunotherapy.

Keywords: Antibody therapy; Biomarker; CAR; Cancer/testis antigens; Immunotherapy; TCR; Vaccine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / metabolism*
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / therapeutic use
  • Cancer Vaccines*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Vaccine Development
  • mRNA Vaccines*


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • mRNA Vaccines