Modified peptides in anti-cancer vaccines: Are we eventually improving anti-tumour immunity?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The discovery of tumour antigens recognized by T cells and the features of immune responses directed against them has paved the way to a multitude of clinical studies aimed at boosting anti-tumour T cell immunity as a therapeutic tool for cancer patients. One of the different strategies explored to ameliorate the immunogenicity of tumour antigens in vaccine protocols is represented by the use of optimized peptides or altered peptide ligands, whose amino acid sequence has been modified for improving HLA binding or TCR interaction with respect to native epitopes. However, despite the promising results achieved with preclinical studies, the clinical efficacy of this approach has not yet met the expectations. Although multiple reasons could explain the relative failure of altered peptide ligands as more effective cancer vaccines, the possibility that T cells primed by modified tumour peptides might may be unable to effectively cross-recognize tumour cells has not been sufficiently addressed. Indeed, the introduction of conservative amino acid substitutions may still produce diverse and unpredictable changes in the HLA/peptide interface, with consequent modifications of the TCR repertoire that can interact with the complex. This could lead to the expansion of a broad array of T cells whose TCRs may not necessarily react with equivalent affinity with the original antigenic epitope. Considering the results presently achieved with this vaccine approach, and the emerging availability of alternative strategies for boosting anti-tumour immunity, the use of modified tumour peptides could be reconsidered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1159-1167
Number of pages9
JournalCancer Immunology, Immunotherapy
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009


  • Active immunotherapy
  • Colo-rectal carcinoma
  • Heteroclytic peptides
  • Melanoma
  • Superagonist analogues

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Immunology
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Oncology

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