Tailoring In Vivo Cytotoxicity Assays to Study Immunodominance in Tumor-specific CD8+ T Cell Responses

This article has been accepted and is currently in production


Carboxyfluorescein succinimidyl ester (CFSE)-based in vivo cytotoxicity assays enable sensitive and accurate quantitation of CD8+ cytolytic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses elicited against tumor- and pathogen-derived peptides. They offer several advantages over traditional killing assays. First, they permit the monitoring of CTL-mediated cytotoxicity within architecturally intact secondary lymphoid organs, typically in the spleen. Second, they allow for mechanistic studies during the priming, effector and recall phases of CTL responses. Third, they provide useful platforms for vaccine/drug efficacy testing in a truly in vivo setting. Here, we provide an optimized protocol for the examination of concomitant CTL responses against more than one peptide epitope of a model tumor antigen (Ag), namely, simian virus 40 (SV40)-encoded large T Ag (T Ag). Like most other clinically relevant tumor proteins, T Ag harbors many potentially immunogenic peptides. However, only four such peptides induce detectable CTL responses in C57BL/6 mice. These responses are consistently arranged in a hierarchical order based on their magnitude, which forms the basis for TCD8 “immunodominance” in this powerful system. Accordingly, the bulk of the T Ag-specific TCD8 response is focused against a single immunodominant epitope while the other three epitopes are recognized and responded to only weakly. Immunodominance compromises the breadth of antitumor TCD8 responses and is, as such, considered by many as an impediment to successful vaccination against cancer. Therefore, it is important to understand the cellular and molecular factors and mechanisms that dictate or shape TCD8 immunodominance. The protocol we describe here is tailored to the investigation of this phenomenon in the T Ag immunization model, but can be readily modified and extended to similar studies in other tumor models. We provide examples of how the impact of experimental immunotherapeutic interventions can be measured using in vivo cytotoxicity assays.