Human endogenous retrovirus K triggers an antigen-specific immune response in breast cancer patients

Academic Article


  • Recent evidence indicates that human cancer cells reactivate the expression of latent human endogenous retroviral (HERV) proteins. However, the extent to which cancer patients mount de novo immune responses against expressed HERV elements is unclear. In this study, we determined the extent of HERV-K env expression in human breast cancer (BC) and whether both humoral and cell-mediated immunity against HERV-K can be found in BC patients. We found HERV-K env protein expression in 88% of BC (n = 119) but not in normal breast (n = 76) tissues. ELISA screening assays detected significant titers of anti-HERV-K env IgG in a large proportion of BC patients. T-cell responses against HERV-K were also detected in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from BC patients stimulated with autologous dendritic cells pulsed with HERV-K env SU antigens. These responses included induction of T-cell proliferation (P = 0.0043), IFN-γ production measured by enzyme-linked immunospot (P < 0.0001), and multiplex cytokine secretion (P = 0.0033). Multiplex cytokine analysis found a T-helper 1 cytokine response, including interleukin (IL)-2 (P = 0.0109), IL-6 (P = 0.0396), IL-8 (P = 0.0169), and IP-10 (P = 0.0045) secretion during in vitro stimulation of BC PBMC with HERV-K antigen. We also found HERV-K-specific CTLs that were capable of lysing target cells expressing HERV-K env protein in BC patients but not in normal female controls without cancer. These findings suggest that retroviral gene products are capable of acting as tumor-associated antigens activating both T-cell and B-cell responses in BC patients. ©2008 American Association for Cancer Research.
  • Published In

  • Cancer Research  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 9447191
  • Author List

  • Wang-Johanning F; Radvanyi L; Rycaj K; Plummer JB; Yan P; Sastry KJ; Piyathilake CJ; Hunt KK; Johanning GL
  • Start Page

  • 5869
  • End Page

  • 5877
  • Volume

  • 68
  • Issue

  • 14