Molecular mimicry is known to be one of the leading mechanisms by which infectious agents may induce autoimmunity. However, whether a similar mechanism triggers anti-tumor immune response is unexplored, and the role of anti-viral T-cells infiltrating the tumor has remained anecdotal. To address this question, we first developed a bioinformatic tool to identify tumor peptides with high similarity to viral epitopes. Using peptides identified by this tool, we showed that, in mice, viral pre-existing immunity enhanced the efficacy of cancer immunotherapy via molecular mimicry. Specifically, when treated with a cancer vaccine consisting of peptides with a high degree of homology with specific viral peptides, the mice with induced pre-existing immunity to these viral peptides showed significantly better anti-tumor response.To understand whether this mechanism could partly explain immunotherapy-response in humans, we analyzed a cohort of melanoma patients undergoing PD1 treatment with high IgG titer for Cytomegalovirus (CMV). In this cohort of patients, we showed that high level of CMV-antibodies was associated with a prolonged progression free survival, and found that in some cases PBMCs could cross-react with both melanoma and CMV homologous peptides. Finally, T-cell TCR sequencing revealed expansion of the same CD8+ T-cell clones, when PBMCs were pulsed with tumor- or homologous viral peptides.In conclusion, we have demonstrated that pre-existing immunity and molecular mimicry could explain part of the response observed in immunotherapy. Most importantly, we have developed a tool able to identify tumor antigens and neoantigens based on their similarity to pathogen antigens, in order to exploit molecular mimicry and cross-reactive T-cells in cancer vaccine development.
Citation Format: Jacopo Chiaro, Henna Kasanen, Thomas Whalley, Cristian Capasso, Sara Feola, Mikaela Grönholm, Firas Hamdan, Karita Peltonen, Micaela Hernberg, Siru Mäkelä, Hanna Karhapää, Paul Brown, Beatriz Martins, Manlio Fusciello, Erkko Ylösmäki, Anna Kreutzman, Satu Mustjoki, Barbara Szomolay, Vincenzo Cerullo. Viral molecular mimicry influences the antitumor immune response in murine and human melanoma [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2021; 2021 Apr 10-15 and May 17-21. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2021;81(13_Suppl):Abstract nr 1488.