Identification and validation of expressed HLA-binding breast cancer neoepitopes for potential use in individualized cancer therapy

J Immunother Cancer. 2021 Jun;9(6):e002605. doi: 10.1136/jitc-2021-002605.


Background: Therapeutic regimens designed to augment the immunological response of a patient with breast cancer (BC) to tumor tissue are critically informed by tumor mutational burden and the antigenicity of expressed neoepitopes. Herein we describe a neoepitope and cognate neoepitope-reactive T-cell identification and validation program that supports the development of next-generation immunotherapies.

Methods: Using GPS Cancer, NantOmics research, and The Cancer Genome Atlas databases, we developed a novel bioinformatic-based approach which assesses mutational load, neoepitope expression, human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-binding prediction, and in vitro confirmation of T-cell recognition to preferentially identify targetable neoepitopes. This program was validated by application to a BC cell line and confirmed using tumor biopsies from two patients with BC enrolled in the Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes and Genomics (TILGen) study.

Results: The antigenicity and HLA-A2 restriction of the BC cell line predicted neoepitopes were determined by reactivity of T cells from HLA-A2-expressing healthy donors. For the TILGen subjects, tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) recognized the predicted neoepitopes both as peptides and on retroviral expression in HLA-matched Epstein-Barr virus-lymphoblastoid cell line and BC cell line MCF-7 cells; PCR clonotyping revealed the presence of T cells in the periphery with T-cell receptors for the predicted neoepitopes. These high-avidity immune responses were polyclonal, mutation-specific and restricted to either HLA class I or II. Interestingly, we observed the persistence and expansion of polyclonal T-cell responses following neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

Conclusions: We demonstrate our neoepitope prediction program allows for the successful identification of neoepitopes targeted by TILs in patients with BC, providing a means to identify tumor-specific immunogenic targets for individualized treatment, including vaccines or adoptively transferred cellular therapies.

Keywords: antigens; breast neoplasms; neoplasm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Female
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I