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We identified circulating CD8+ T-cell populations specific for the tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) MART-1 (27-35) or tyrosinase (368-376) in six of eleven patients with metastatic melanoma using peptide/HLA-A*0201 tetramers. These TAA-specific populations were of two phenotypically distinct types: one, typical for memory/effector T cells; the other, a previously undescribed phenotype expressing both naive and effector cell markers. This latter type represented more than 2% of the total CD8+ T cells in one patient, permitting detailed phenotypic and functional analysis. Although these cells have many of the hallmarks of effector T cells, they were functionally unresponsive, unable to directly lyse melanoma target cells or produce cytokines in response to mitogens. In contrast, CD8+ T cells from the same patient were able to lyse EBV-pulsed target cells and showed robust allogeneic responses. Thus, the clonally expanded TAA-specific population seems to have been selectively rendered anergic in vivo. Peptide stimulation of the TAA-specific T-cell populations in other patients failed to induce substantial upregulation of CD69 expression, indicating that these cells may also have functional defects, leading to blunted activation responses. These data demonstrate that systemic TAA-specific T-cell responses can develop de novo in cancer patients, but that antigen-specific unresponsiveness may explain why such cells are unable to control tumor growth.
View details for PubMedID 10371507