An optimized epitope identified for generation and monitoring of PSA-specific T-cells in patients on early phases of PSA-based immunotherapeutic protocols

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Efficacy of vaccination in cancer patients on immunotherapeutic protocols can be difficult to evaluate. The aim of this study was therefore to identify a single natural or modified epitope in prostate-specific antigen (PSA) with the ability to generate high levels of PSA-specific T cells to facilitate monitoring in patients after vaccination against prostate cancer. To the best of our knowledge, this study describes for the first time the peptide specificity of T cells stimulated by endogenously processed PSA antigen. The peptide specificity of HLA-A*0201-restricted CD8+ T cells against human and rhesus PSA was investigated both in vivo after DNA vaccination in HLA-A*0201-transgenic mice and in vitro after repetitive stimulation of human T cells with DNA-transfected human dendritic cells (DCs). One of seven native PSA peptides, psa53–61, was able to activate high levels of PSA-specific CD8+ T cells in HLA-A*0201-transgenic mice after PSA DNA vaccination. Psa53–61 was also the only peptide that induced human T cells to produce IFNγ after stimulation with PSA transfected DCs, however not in all donors. Therefore, plasmids encoding modified epitopes in predicted HLA-A*0201 sequences were constructed. One of these modified PSA plasmids consistently induced IFNγ producing CD8+ T cells to the corresponding modified peptide as well as to the corresponding native peptide, in all murine and human T cell cultures. This study demonstrates a novel concept of introducing a modified epitope within a self-tumor antigen, with the purpose of eliciting a reliable T cell response from the non-tolerized immune repertoire, to facilitate monitoring of vaccine efficacy in cancer patients on immunotherapeutic protocols. The purpose of such a modified epitope is thus not to induce therapeutically relevant T cells but rather to, in case of weak or divergent T cell responses to self antigens/peptides, help answer questions about efficacy of vaccine delivery and about the possibility to induce immune responses in the selected and often immunosuppressed cancer patients.