Melanoma patients vaccinated with tumor-associated antigens frequently develop measurable peptide-specific CD8 T cell responses; however, such responses often do not confer clinical benefit. Understanding why vaccine-elicited responses are beneficial in some patients but not in others will be important to improve targeted cancer immunotherapies.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed peptide-specific CD8 T cell responses in detail, by generating and characterizing over 200 cytotoxic T lymphocyte clones derived from T cell responses to heteroclitic peptide vaccination, and compared these responses to endogenous anti-tumor T cell responses elicited naturally (a heteroclitic peptide is a modification of a native peptide sequence involving substitution of an amino acid at an anchor residue to enhance the immunogenicity of the peptide). We found that vaccine-elicited T cells are diverse in T cell receptor variable chain beta expression and exhibit a different recognition profile for heteroclitic versus native peptide. In particular, vaccine-elicited T cells respond to native peptide with predominantly low recognition efficiencya measure of the sensitivity of a T cell to different cognate peptide concentrations for stimulationand, as a result, are inefficient in tumor lysis.
In contrast, endogenous tumor-associated-antigen-specific T cells show a predominantly high recognition efficiency for native peptide and efficiently lyse tumor targets.
These results suggest that factors that shape the peptide-specific T cell repertoire after vaccination may be different from those that affect the endogenous response. Furthermore, our findings suggest that current heteroclitic peptide vaccination protocols drive expansion of peptide-specific T cells with a diverse range of recognition efficiencies, a significant proportion of which are unable to respond to melanoma cells. Therefore, it is critical that the recognition efficiency of vaccine-elicited T cells be measured, with the goal of advancing those modalities that elicit T cells with the greatest potential of tumor reactivity.