Vaccines Targeting the Cancer-testis Antigen SSX-2 Elicit HLA-A2 Epitope-specific Cytolytic T Cells

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The cancer-testis antigen synovial sarcoma X breakpoint-2 (SSX-2) is a potentially attractive target for tumor immunotherapy based upon its tissue-restricted expression to germline cells and its frequent expression in malignancies. The goal of this study was to evaluate genetic vaccine encoding SSX-2 to prioritize human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-A2-specific epitopes and determine if a DNA vaccine can elicit SSX-2-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) capable of lysing prostate cancer cells. HLA-A2-restricted epitopes were identified based on their in vitro binding affinity for HLA-A2 and by the ability of a genetic vaccine to elicit peptide-specific CTL in A2/DR1 (HLA-A2.1+/HLA-DR1+/H-2 class I−/class II-knockout) transgenic mice. We found that SSX-2 peptides p41-49 (KASEKIFYV) and p103-111 (RLQGISPKI) had high affinity for HLA-A2 and were immunogenic in vivo; however, peptide p103-111 was immunodominant with robust peptide-specific immune responses elicited in mice vaccinated with a plasmid DNA vaccine encoding SSX-2. Furthermore, p103-111-specific CTLs were able to lyse an HLA-A2+ prostate cancer cell line. The immunodominance of this epitope was found not to be due to a putative HLA-DR1 epitope (p98-112) flanking p103-111. Finally, we demonstrated that SSX-2 epitope-specific CTLs could be detected and cultured from the peripheral blood of HLA-A2+ prostate cancer patients, notably patients with advanced prostate cancer. Overall, we conclude that SSX-2 peptide p103-111 is an immunodominant HLA-A2-restricted epitope, and epitope-specific CD8+ T cells can be detected in patients with prostate cancer, suggesting that tolerance to SSX-2 can be circumvented in vivo. Together, these findings suggest that SSX-2 may be a relevant target antigen for prostate cancer vaccine approaches.

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