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, 15 (1), 19-32

The Immunogenic Properties of Melanoma-Associated Antigens Recognized by Cytotoxic T Lymphocytes


The Immunogenic Properties of Melanoma-Associated Antigens Recognized by Cytotoxic T Lymphocytes

A F Kirkin et al. Exp Clin Immunogenet.


During the last 6 years significant progress has been achieved in the identification of melanoma-associated antigens recognized by cytotoxic T lymphocytes. These antigens belong the three main groups: tumor-associated testis-specific antigens (MAGE, BAGE, GAGE and PRAME), melanocyte differentiation antigens (tyrosinase, Melan-A/MART-1, gp100, TRP-1 and TRP-2) and mutated or aberrantly expressed antigens (MUM-1, CDK4, beta-catenin, gp100-in4, p15 and N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase V). In this review, we have summarized the available data concerning the characterization of melanoma-associated antigens with focus on their immunogenic and protective properties. The development of a strong immune response against differentiation antigens is limited by the existence of tolerance against these 'self' antigens, permitting the involvement of only T cells with low affinity T cell receptors. Among the melanoma differentiation antigens, only gp100 has been shown to be a tumor regression antigen. The testis-specific antigens such as MAGE and PRAME should potentially be highly immunogenic antigens. They contain several potential HLA class I binding epitopes and are present only in the testes which are not accessible to the cells of the immune system due to the lack of direct contact with the immune cells and the lack of HLA class I expression on the surface of germ cells. But only 2 patients have been found who responded to these antigens in vivo, indicating their genuinely low immunogenicity. A comparison of the predicted secondary structures of these two groups of antigens (testis-specific and differentiation antigens) revealed enrichment of long alpha-helical stretches in the testis-specific antigens. We hypothesize that such highly organized structures could diminish the efficiency of the protein unfolding--a necessary step in the proteolytic cleavage by proteasomes--and, therefore, could be responsible for the low immunogenicity of these proteins. In this case, modifications decreasing the stability of these proteins might be a means to improve the immune response against these potentially therapeutically useful antigens.

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