Tumour Antigens Recognised by T Lymphocytes


Cancer cells bear markers (antigens) that identify them to the immune system. These antigens can be recognised by either cytotoxic or helper T lymphocytes, which can in turn produce a variety of anticancer effects, including direct lysis of tumour cells or indirect inhibition of tumour growth via the release of cytokines. Over the past two decades, the identity and structure of many different tumour antigens has been revealed via a range of different techniques. Some of these antigens are found only on tumour cells, whereas others can be found on both normal and cancerous tissues. Extensive efforts are currently underway to exploit this knowledge to develop effective therapeutic vaccines that elicit the immune system to eradicate cancer cells from the body.

Key Concepts:

  • Cancer cells bear markers (antigens) that identify them to the immune system.

  • Tumour antigens can be recognised by cytotoxic and helper T cells.

  • T cells can directly lyse tumour cells or inhibit tumour growth via cytokine release.

  • The identity and structure of many different tumour antigens are now known.

  • Tumour antigens can be classified into different groups based on their expression patterns.

  • Therapeutic vaccines that elicit the immune system to better recoginise tumour antigens have the potential to eradicate cancer cells from the body.

Keywords: tumour antigens; cytotoxic T lymphocytes; helper T lymphocytes; cancer vaccines

Figure 1.

Presentation of antigenic peptide on class I and II MHC molecules. MHC Class I‐binding peptides are classically derived from intracellular proteins. These proteins are degraded in the cytosol by the proteasome. The resulting peptides are transferred by the Transporter associated with antigen processing (TAP) to the (ER), where they bind to empty MHC class I molecules in association with the protein, β2 microglobulin. The resulting complex then migrates to the cell membrane where it can be recognised by CTLs. In contrast, peptides presented by MHC class II molecules originate from extracellular proteins that have been engulfed via endocytosis into vesicles where they are degraded into small peptides that then combine with class II molecules before finally reaching the cell surface. In professional APCs, class I‐binding peptides can also be derived from engulfed extracellular proteins or protein fragments via a pathway known as cross‐presentation.



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Pang, Ken C, Van den Eynde, Benoît J, van der Bruggen, Pierre, and Chen, Weisan(May 2013) Tumour Antigens Recognised by T Lymphocytes. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001431.pub3]