Telomerase is considered a universal tumor-associated antigen (TAA) due to its high rate of expression by cancers (≈90%), and clinical trials are in progress to test the immunotherapeutical efficacy of antitelomerase immunization in patients with cancer. However, the data concerning frequency and functional activity of telomerase-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) in patients with cancer are few and conflicting, although their knowledge would be mandatory to predict the efficacy of telomerase-specific immunotherapy in selected patients. We performed this study to analyze frequency and cytolytic function of circulating CD8+ T lymphocytes specific for the p540 telomerase peptide in a series of human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-A2+ cancer patients. The results show that most patients with cancer have circulating telomerase-specific CD8+ T lymphocytes, but a high frequency of telomerasespecific CTLs are present only in a fraction of them. Furthermore, CTL lines able to kill telomerase-positive tumor cells, including autologous cancer cells, can be expanded ex vivo from some, but not all, patients with cancer. In conclusion, the results of the study support the development of clinical protocols using telomerase peptides as an immunizing agent. However, they underline the necessity to study single patients immunologically before undergoing vaccination, to select the patients adequately, and to eventually adapt the immunization schedule to the patient's immunologic status.
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