Single-cell sequencing unveils extensive intratumoral heterogeneity of cancer/testis antigen expression in melanoma and lung cancer

June, 06, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles

Cancer/testis antigens (CTAs) are widely expressed in melanoma and lung cancer, emerging as promising targets for vaccination strategies and T-cell-based therapies in these malignancies. Despite recognizing the essential impact of intratumoral heterogeneity on clinical responses to immunotherapy, our understanding of intratumoral heterogeneity in CTA expression has remained limited. We employed single-cell mRNA sequencing to delineate the CTA expression profiles of cancer cells in clinically derived melanoma and lung cancer samples. Our findings reveal a high degree of intratumoral transcriptional heterogeneity in CTA expression. In melanoma, every cell expressed at least one CTA. However, most individual CTAs, including the widely used therapeutic targets NY-ESO-1 and MAGE, were confined to subpopulations of cells and were uncoordinated in their expression, resulting in mosaics of cancer cells with diverse CTA profiles. Coordinated expression was observed, however, mainly among highly structurally and evolutionarily related CTA genes. Importantly, a minor subset of CTAs, including PRAME and several members of the GAGE and MAGE-A families, were homogenously expressed in melanomas, highlighting their potential as therapeutic targets. Extensive heterogeneity in CTA expression was also observed in lung cancer. However, the frequency of CTA-positive cancer cells was notably lower and homogenously expressed CTAs were only identified in one of five tumors in this cancer type. Our findings underscore the need for careful CTA target selection in immunotherapy development and clinical testing and offer a rational framework for identifying the most promising candidates.

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