Direct Measurement of Peptide-Specific CD8+ T Cells Using HLA-A2: Ig Dimer for Monitoring the In Vivo Immune Response to a HER2/neu Vaccine in Breast and Prostate Cancer Patients

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HER2/neu is a proto-oncogene and a member of the epidermal growth factor receptor family of proteins that is overexpressed in numerous types of human cancer. We are currently conducting clinical trials with the HER2/neu E75 peptide vaccine in breast and prostate cancer patients. We have evaluated the use of HLA-A2 dimer molecule for the immunological monitoring of cancer patients receiving the E75 peptide vaccine. Peripheral blood samples from patients receiving the vaccine were stained with HLA-A2 dimers containing the vaccine peptide E75 or control peptides and analyzed by flow cytometry. We compared the HLA-A2 dimer assay to standard methods of immunologic monitoring (IFN-γ release, lymphocyte proliferation, and cytotoxicity). The HLA-A2 dimer assay was also compared with the HLA-A2 tetramer assay. E75 peptide-specific CD8 T cells were detected directly in the peripheral blood of patients by staining with E75-HLA-A2 dimers and CD8 antibodies. T cell cultures generated by repeated stimulations using E75 peptide-pulsed dendritic cells showed increased staining with E75-peptide loaded HLA-A2 dimers. Simultaneously analysis by the dimer assay and standard immunologic assays demonstrated that the dimer-staining assay correlated well with these methods of immunologic monitoring. A direct comparison using E75-specific HLA-A2 tetramers and HLA-A2 dimers for the detection of E75-specific CD8 T cells in peripheral blood showed comparable results with the two assays. Our findings indicate that the HLA-A2 dimer is a powerful new tool for directly quantifying and monitoring immune responses of antigen-specific T cells in peptide vaccine clinical trials.

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