Identification of pan-cancer/testis genes and validation of therapeutic targeting in triple-negative breast cancer: Lin28a-based and Siglece-based vaccination induces antitumor immunity and inhibits metastasis

January, 01, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles


Cancer–testis (CT) genes are targets for tumor antigen-specific immunotherapy given that their expression is normally restricted to the immune-privileged testis in healthy individuals with aberrant expression in tumor tissues. While they represent targetable germ tissue antigens and play important functional roles in tumorigenesis, there is currently no standardized approach for identifying clinically relevant CT genes. Optimized algorithms and validated methods for accurate prediction of reliable CT antigens (CTAs) with high immunogenicity are also lacking.


Sequencing data from the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) and The Genomic Data Commons (GDC) databases was used for the development of a bioinformatic pipeline to identify CT exclusive genes. A CT germness score was calculated based on the number of CT genes expressed within a tumor type and their degree of expression. The impact of tumor germness on clinical outcome was evaluated using healthy GTEx and GDC tumor samples. We then used a triple-negative breast cancer mouse model to develop and test an algorithm that predicts epitope immunogenicity based on the identification of germline sequences with strong major histocompatibility complex class I (MHCI) and MHCII binding affinities. Germline sequences for CT genes were synthesized as long synthetic peptide vaccines and tested in the 4T1 triple-negative model of invasive breast cancer with Poly(I:C) adjuvant. Vaccine immunogenicity was determined by flow cytometric analysis of in vitro and in vivo T-cell responses. Primary tumor growth and lung metastasis was evaluated by histopathology, flow cytometry and colony formation assay.


We developed a new bioinformatic pipeline to reliably identify CT exclusive genes as immunogenic targets for immunotherapy. We identified CT genes that are exclusively expressed within the testis, lack detectable thymic expression, and are significantly expressed in multiple tumor types. High tumor germness correlated with tumor progression but not with tumor mutation burden, supporting CTAs as appealing targets in low mutation burden tumors. Importantly, tumor germness also correlated with markers of antitumor immunity. Vaccination of 4T1 tumor-bearing mice with Siglece and Lin28a antigens resulted in increased T-cell antitumor immunity and reduced primary tumor growth and lung metastases.


Our results present a novel strategy for the identification of highly immunogenic CTAs for the development of targeted vaccines that induce antitumor immunity and inhibit metastasis.

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