Lack of terminally differentiated tumor-specific CD8+ T cells at tumor site in spite of antitumor immunity to self-antigens in human metastatic melanoma

Roberta Mortarini, Adriano Piris, Andrea Maurichi, Alessandra Molla, Ilaria Bersani, Aldo Bono, Cesare Bartoli, Mario Santinami, Claudia Lombardo, Fernando Ravagnani, Natale Cascinelli, Giorgio Parmiani, Andrea Anichini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Activation of CTL-mediated antitumor immunity to self-epitopes expressed by neoplastic cells is thought to be prevented, at any stage of tumor progression, by tolerance mechanisms. In contrast, in 74 American Joint Committee on Cancer stages I-IV melanoma patients, we found that development of lymph node metastases is a key event triggering CD8+ T-cell-mediated immunity to self-epitopes encoded by melanocyte differentiation antigens. This was shown by the increased peripheral precursor frequency to Melan-A/Mart-1, gp100, and tyrosinase epitopes in stage III and IV compared with stage I and II patients, and by accumulation of functional memory T cells directed to Melan-A/Mart-126-35 in tumor-invaded lymph nodes. However, in tumor-invaded lymph nodes of most patients, CD8+ T cells directed to melanocyte differentiation antigens or to tumor-restricted antigens (MAGE-3 and NY-ESO-1 epitopes), showed a CCR7+ CD45RA+ CD27+ CD28+ perforin- "precursor" phenotype. Only in 7 of 23 cases antigen-specific CD8+ T cells in invaded lymph nodes showed a predominant CCR7- CD45RA- CD27+ CD28- perforin+ "preterminally differentiated" phenotype. In the latter subset of patients, by immunohistochemistry in lymph node lesions, we found that CD8+ T lymphocytes intermingling with the neoplastic tissue expressed a CCR7- CD45RO+/RA- phenotype, whereas CD4+ lymphocytes did not infiltrate the tumor. Furthermore, perforin and granzyme B were expressed on a higher fraction of the CD8+ cells surrounding the invading tumor compared with the lymphocytes infiltrating the neoplastic tissue. In addition, no evidence for tumor regression was found in such metastatic lesions, as documented by absence of neoplastic cell necrosis or apoptosis. These data indicate that neoplastic cells in the lymph nodes and/or increased tumor burden in metastatic disease activate CD8+ T-cell-mediated antitumor immunity to self-epitopes. However, the paucity of terminally differentiated CD8+ T cells at tumor site suggests that immunotherapy strategies may require not only the boosting of tumor immunity, but also effective means to promote CD8+ T-cell differentiation in the neoplastic tissue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2535-2545
Number of pages11
JournalCancer Research
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - May 15 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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