Abstract

Cyclin E1 (CCNE1) and cyclin E2 (CCNE2) are cell cycle genes that are overexpressed in AML, ALL, and CML, and in solid tumors such as breast cancer, lung cancer, and gastric cancer. We reported that two homologous nonameric peptides from CCNE1 (CCNE1144-152, ILLDWLMEV) and CCNE2 (CCNE2144-152, ILLDWLLEV), which differ by a single amino acid at position 7, have equal binding affinity for HLA-A2 and that CCNE1- and CCNE2- specific CTL elicited from healthy donors kill ALL and CML cells that overexpress CCNE1 and CCNE2. Interestingly, CCNE1/A2 and CCNE2/A2 tetramers bind to both T-cell receptors (TCR), but the longer tetramer dissociation t1/2 of CCNE1/A2 compared with CCNE2/A2 tetramer suggests CCNE1 is the more dominant epitope. To determine the clinical significance of CTL immunity to these self-epitopes, we studied peripheral blood mononuclear cells from 18 patients before and after allogeneic stem cell transplantation (SCT) using CCNE1/A2 and CCNE2/A2 tetramers. An increase in the absolute number of circulating CCNE1- or CCNE2-CTL after SCT was considered evidence of an immune response (IR). Of the18 patients, there were 10 with CML and 8 with ALL, and all were HLA-A2+ and had sufficient blood samples cryopreserved from various time points before SCT and 3–12 months after SCT for analysis. Ten patients, including all 8 ALL patients, were in complete remission (CR) prior to SCT and 5 patients achieved CR after SCT. An IR to CCNE1 was found in 12 of 18 (67%) patients and an IR to CCNE2 was found in 14 of 18 (78%) patients. All 12 patients who had an IR to CCNE1 also had an IR to CCNE2, reflecting possible cross-recognition of both peptides by the same CTL clones. By Chi-square analysis, IR to either CCNE1 or CCNE2 did not correlate with diagnosis (CML vs. ALL), source of the graft (matched related donors vs. mismatched donors), or disease status prior to SCT (remission vs. no remission). Six patients developed acute graft-versus-host disease (aGVHD) and 12 developed chronic graft-versus-host disease (cGVHD). IR to either CCNE1 or CCNE2 occurred more frequently in patients without aGVHD than in the patients with aGVHD (92% vs. 50%, p<0.05), although no significant difference in the IR frequency was observed amongst those who developed cGVHD versus those that did not. Of 8 CML patients who were not in CR prior to SCT, IR to either CCNE1 or CCNE2 occurred more frequently in patients that achieved CR compared to those that did not achieve CR after SCT (100% vs. 33%, respectively; p<0.04). These results provide clinical evidence that both CCNE1 and CCNE2 peptides are novel leukemia-associated antigens, and they justify future clinical trials to determine whether CTL immunity can be enhanced against these antigens in patients with ALL and CML.

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