A shift in the phenotype of melan-A-specific CTL identifies melanoma patients with an active tumor-specific immune response.
Dunbar PR., Smith CL., Chao D., Salio M., Shepherd D., Mirza F., Lipp M., Lanzavecchia A., Sallusto F., Evans A., Russell-Jones R., Harris AL., Cerundolo V.
In a significant proportion of melanoma patients, CTL specific for the melan-A(26/7-35) epitope can be detected in peripheral blood using HLA-A2/peptide tetramers. However, the functional capacity of these CTL has been controversial, since although they prove to be effective killers after in vitro expansion, in some patients they have blunted activation responses ex vivo. We used phenotypic markers to characterize melan-A tetramer(+) cells in both normal individuals and melanoma patients, and correlated these markers with ex vivo assays of CTL function. Melanoma patients with detectable melan-A tetramer(+) cells in peripheral blood fell into two groups. Seven of thirteen patients had a CCR7(+) CD45R0(-) CD45RA(+) phenotype, the same as that found in some healthy controls, and this phenotype was associated with a lack of response to melan-A peptide ex vivo. In the remaining six patients, melan-A tetramer(+) cells were shifted toward a CCR7(-) CD45R0(+) CD45RA(-) phenotype, and responses to melan-A peptide could be readily demonstrated ex vivo. When lymph nodes infiltrated by melan-A-expressing melanoma cells were examined, a similar dichotomy emerged. These findings demonstrate that activation of melan-A-specific CTL occurs in only some patients with malignant melanoma, and that only patients with such active immune responses are capable of responding to Ag in ex vivo assays.