Reports have shown that activation of tumor-specific CD4+ helper T (Th) cells is crucial for effective anti-tumor immunity and identification of Th-cell epitopes is critical for peptide vaccine-based cancer immunotherapy. Although computer algorithms are available to predict peptides with high binding affinity to a specific HLA class II molecule, the ability of those peptides to induce Th-cell responses must be evaluated. We have established HLA-DR4 (HLADRA*01:01/HLA-DRB1*04:05) transgenic mice (Tgm), since this HLA-DR allele is most frequent (13.6%) in Japanese population, to evaluate HLA-DR4-restricted Th-cell responses to tumor-associated antigen (TAA)-derived peptides predicted to bind to HLA-DR4. To avoid weak binding between mouse CD4 and HLA-DR4, Tgm were designed to express chimeric HLA-DR4/I-Ed, where I-Ed α1 and β1 domains were replaced with those from HLA-DR4. Th cells isolated from Tgm immunized with adjuvant and HLA-DR4-binding cytomegalovirus-derived peptide proliferated when stimulated with peptide-pulsed HLA-DR4-transduced mouse L cells, indicating chimeric HLA-DR4/I-Ed has equivalent antigen presenting capacity to HLA-DR4. Immunization with CDCA155-78 peptide, a computer algorithm-predicted HLA-DR4-binding peptide derived from TAA CDCA1, successfully induced Th-cell responses in Tgm, while immunization of HLA-DR4-binding Wilms' tumor 1 antigen-derived peptide with identical amino acid sequence to mouse ortholog failed. This was overcome by using peptide-pulsed syngeneic bone marrow-derived dendritic cells (BM-DC) followed by immunization with peptide/CFA booster. BM-DC-based immunization of KIF20A 494-517 peptide from another TAA KIF20A, with an almost identical HLA-binding core amino acid sequence to mouse ortholog, successfully induced Th-cell responses in Tgm. Notably, both CDCA1 55-78 and KIF20A494-517 peptides induced human Th-cell responses in PBMCs from HLA-DR4-positive donors. Finally, an HLA-DR4 binding DEPDC1191-213 peptide from a new TAA DEPDC1 overexpressed in bladder cancer induced strong Th-cell responses both in Tgm and in PBMCs from an HLA-DR4-positive donor. Thus, the HLA-DR4 Tgm combined with computer algorithm was useful for preliminary screening of candidate peptides for vaccination.
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