Tumor antigens are central to antitumor immunity. Recent evidence suggests that peptides from noncanonical (nonC) aberrantly translated proteins can be presented on HLA-I by tumor cells. Here, we investigated the immunogenicity of nonC tumor HLA-I ligands (nonC-TL) to better understand their contribution to cancer immunosurveillance and their therapeutic applicability.
Peptides presented on HLA-I were identified in 9 patient-derived tumor cell lines from melanoma, gynecologic, and head and neck cancer through proteogenomics. A total of 507 candidate tumor antigens, including nonC-TL, neoantigens, cancer-germline, or melanocyte differentiation antigens, were tested for T-cell recognition of preexisting responses in patients with cancer. Donor peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) were in vitro sensitized against 170 selected nonC-TL to isolate antigen-specific T-cell receptors (TCR) and evaluate their therapeutic potential.
We found no recognition of the 507 nonC-TL tested by autologous ex vivo expanded tumor-reactive T-cell cultures while the same cultures demonstrated reactivity to mutated, cancer-germline, or melanocyte differentiation antigens. However, in vitro sensitization of donor PBL against 170 selected nonC-TL, led to the identification of TCRs specific to three nonC-TL, two of which mapped to the 5′ UTR regions of HOXC13 and ZKSCAN1, and one mapping to a noncoding spliced variant of C5orf22C. T cells targeting these nonC-TL recognized cancer cell lines naturally presenting their corresponding antigens. Expression of the three immunogenic nonC-TL was shared across tumor types and barely or not detected in normal cells.
Our findings predict a limited contribution of nonC-TL to cancer immunosurveillance but demonstrate they may be attractive novel targets for widely applicable immunotherapies.