The long-term survival of some patients with metastatic melanoma may be attributable in part to cellular immune responses to melanoma antigens. However, little is known about the level of CTL reactivity in vivo that is required for immunological control of tumor progression. In the present report, T-cell responses were evaluated with lymphocytes obtained from tumor-involved nodes and peripheral blood of a long-term melanoma survivor. Using an ELISPOT assay, naturally occurring functional T cells, which recognize the peptide ALLAVGATK (gp10017–25) plus two other HLA-A3 restricted peptides, were detected in a tumor-involved lymph node. The ALLAVGATK-reactive T cells were also evaluated by MHC-tetramers staining and were found to be CD8+ CD45RO+ L-selectin(−) CD11a+, suggesting that they are antigen experienced and have a memory phenotype. Unstimulated peripheral blood lymphocytes from the same patient demonstrated no detectable T-cell responses; however, a single stimulation with ALLAVGATK peptide in vitro resulted in a dramatic expansion of peptide-reactive CTLs. This patient, with evidence of tumor-reactive CTLs targeted to several tumor antigens in a tumor-involved lymph node and with evidence of a circulating memory T-cell response, has remained disease-free for 6 years, despite prior bulky nodal metastasis. In contrast, three HLA-A3+ patients with rapidly progressive metastatic melanoma had no detectable T-cell response in tumor-involved nodes or peripheral blood lymphocytes, even after peptide stimulation ex vivo. The presented data are consistent with a systemic polyvalent immune response against tumor in this long-term survivor. These data provide an estimate of the level of CTL response that may be associated with protection from tumor recurrence.

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Supported in part by NIH Grants CA57653 and CA78519 (to C. L. S.), AI33993 (to D. F. H.), F32 CA72166 (to L. T.), NIH Grant P30CA44579 from the Cancer Center at the University of Virginia, and by the Elaine R. Shepard Clinical Investigator Award in Cancer Immunology (to C. L. S.) from the Cancer Research Institute.

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