Patient-specific (unique) tumour antigens, encoded by somatically mutated cancer genes, generate neoepitopes that are implicated in the induction of tumour-controlling T cell responses. Recent advancements in massive DNA sequencing combined with robust T cell epitope predictions have allowed their systematic identification in several malignancies.Design
We undertook the identification of unique neoepitopes in colorectal cancers (CRCs) by using high-throughput sequencing of cDNAs expressed by standard cancer cell cultures, and by related cancer stem/initiating cells (CSCs) cultures, coupled with a reverse immunology approach not requiring human leukocyte antigen (HLA) allele-specific epitope predictions.Results
Several unique mutated antigens of CRC, shared by standard cancer and related CSC cultures, were identified by this strategy. CD8+ and CD4+ T cells, either autologous to the patient or derived from HLA-matched healthy donors, were readily expanded in vitro by peptides spanning different cancer mutations and specifically recognised differentiated cancer cells and CSC cultures, expressing the mutations. Neoepitope-specific CD8+ T cell frequency was also increased in a patient, compared with healthy donors, supporting the occurrence of clonal expansion in vivo.Conclusions
These results provide a proof-of-concept approach for the identification of unique neoepitopes that are immunogenic in patients with CRC and can also target T cells against the most aggressive CSC component.