Unannotated proteins expand the MHC-I-restricted immunopeptidome in cancer

Nat Biotechnol. 2022 Feb;40(2):209-217. doi: 10.1038/s41587-021-01021-3. Epub 2021 Oct 18.


Tumor-associated epitopes presented on MHC-I that can activate the immune system against cancer cells are typically identified from annotated protein-coding regions of the genome, but whether peptides originating from novel or unannotated open reading frames (nuORFs) can contribute to antitumor immune responses remains unclear. Here we show that peptides originating from nuORFs detected by ribosome profiling of malignant and healthy samples can be displayed on MHC-I of cancer cells, acting as additional sources of cancer antigens. We constructed a high-confidence database of translated nuORFs across tissues (nuORFdb) and used it to detect 3,555 translated nuORFs from MHC-I immunopeptidome mass spectrometry analysis, including peptides that result from somatic mutations in nuORFs of cancer samples as well as tumor-specific nuORFs translated in melanoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and glioblastoma. NuORFs are an unexplored pool of MHC-I-presented, tumor-specific peptides with potential as immunotherapy targets.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / genetics
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy* / methods
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Melanoma* / genetics
  • Peptides


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Peptides