Unmutated tumor antigens are abundant and contribute to tumor control in melanoma


Recognition of MHC-I-associated tumor antigens (TAs) by CD8+ T cells is central to antitumor immunity. Owing to the elevated tumor mutational burden (TMB) in melanoma, the marked efficacy of immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) has been attributed to the recognition of mutated TAs. However, recent reports showed that response to ICB in melanomas with low TMB is associated with CD8+ T-cell reactivity against melanocyte lineage-associated antigens (LSAs). Here, we systematically evaluated the contribution of all TA classes, i.e., mutated and unmutated, canonical and non-canonical, to the antigenic landscape of melanoma. We characterized the TAs from melanoma biopsies and patient-derived cell lines using proteogenomics. Out of 79450 MHC-I-associated peptides (MAPs) identified from 19 samples, we found 557 unmutated TAs classified as tumor-specific (TSA), tumor-associated (TAA), or LSAs. These TAs most often derived from annotated open-reading frames, followed by ncRNAs and intergenic regions. By contrast, only 6 MAPs were mutated and tumor-specific, which could be partially explained by a decreased expression of mutations within MAP-generating genomic regions. While the number of unmutated TAs with predicted presentation (TApres) in melanoma patients was similar between responders and non-responders pre-ICB, non-responders showed marks of inefficient antigen presentation. In consequence, only responders lost TApres upon treatment, in tandem with an expansion in tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes. These results reveal a previously underappreciated contribution of unmutated TAs to tumor control in melanoma and suggest that enhancing their recognition could improve the ICB efficacy in non-responders.

Cancer Research
Sébastien Lemieux
Sébastien Lemieux
Principal Investigator

Principal Investigator, Functional and Structural Bioinformatics Research Unit, IRIC | Scientific direction of the Bioinformatics platform | Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, Université de Montréal