Germline homozygosity and allelic imbalance of HLA-I are common in esophagogastric adenocarcinoma and impair the repertoire of immunogenic peptides

April, 04, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles


The individual HLA-I genotype is associated with cancer, autoimmune diseases and infections. This study elucidates the role of germline homozygosity or allelic imbalance of HLA-I loci in esophago-gastric adenocarcinoma (EGA) and determines the resulting repertoires of potentially immunogenic peptides.


HLA genotypes and sequences of either (1) 10 relevant tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) or (2) patient-specific mutation-associated neoantigens (MANAs) were used to predict good-affinity binders using an in silico approach for MHC-binding ( Imbalanced or lost expression of HLA-I-A/B/C alleles was analyzed by transcriptome sequencing. FluoroSpot assays and TCR sequencing were used to determine peptide-specific T-cell responses.


We show that germline homozygosity of HLA-I genes is significantly enriched in EGA patients (n=80) compared with an HLA-matched reference cohort (n=7605). Whereas the overall mutational burden is similar, the repertoire of potentially immunogenic peptides derived from TAAs and MANAs was lower in homozygous patients. Promiscuity of peptides binding to different HLA-I molecules was low for most TAAs and MANAs and in silico modeling of the homozygous to a heterozygous HLA genotype revealed normalized peptide repertoires. Transcriptome sequencing showed imbalanced expression of HLA-I alleles in 75% of heterozygous patients. Out of these, 33% showed complete loss of heterozygosity, whereas 66% had altered expression of only one or two HLA-I molecules. In a FluoroSpot assay, we determined that peptide-specific T-cell responses against NY-ESO-1 are derived from multiple peptides, which often exclusively bind only one HLA-I allele.


The high frequency of germline homozygosity in EGA patients suggests reduced cancer immunosurveillance leading to an increased cancer risk. Therapeutic targeting of allelic imbalance of HLA-I molecules should be considered in EGA.

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