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Recently, vaccines against the Wilms Tumor antigen 1 (WT1) have been tested in cancer patients. However, it is currently not known whether physiologic levels of WT1 expression in stem and progenitor cells of normal tissue result in the deletion or tolerance induction of WT1-specific T cells. Here, we used an human leukocyte antigen-transgenic murine model to study the fate of human leukocyte antigen class-I restricted, WT1-specific T cells in the thymus and in the periphery. Thymocytes expressing a WT1-specific T-cell receptor derived from high avidity human CD8 T cells were positively selected into the single-positive CD8 population. In the periphery, T cells specific for the WT1 antigen differentiated into CD44-high memory phenotype cells, whereas T cells specific for a non-self-viral antigen retained a CD44(low) naive phenotype. Only the WT1-specific T cells, but not the virus-specific T cells, displayed rapid antigen-specific effector function without prior vaccination. Despite long-term persistence of WT1-specific memory T cells, the animals did not develop autoimmunity, and the function of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells was unimpaired. This is the first demonstration that specificity for a tumor-associated self-antigen may drive differentiation of functionally competent memory T cells.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





6813 - 6824


Animals, Cell Line, Gene Expression, Gene Transfer Techniques, Humans, Immunologic Memory, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Mice, Transgenic, Stem Cells, T-Lymphocytes, Thymus Gland, Vaccination, WT1 Proteins, Wilms Tumor