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On the basis of the results reviewed here, there are two major mechanisms whereby tumour rejection antigens may arise. The first mechanism is mutational. Point mutations occurring in a large variety of genes may produce new antigenic peptides, either by providing them with the ability to bind to MHC class I molecules or by providing them with a new epitope (Fig. 2). The second mechanism is the activation of a gene that is silent in normal tissues and for which no strong natural tolerance has been established. Plausible candidates for the mutational mechanism are the "tumour specific transplantation antigens" observed on methylcholanthrene induced tumours and tumours induced by ultraviolet light. The diversity of these antigens appears to be very large, like that of the tum- antigens. Moreover, these tumours have been obtained with high doses of carcinogens, which are proven mutagens. On the other hand, a P815 tumour rejection antigen appears to arise through the activation of a silent gene, and it may turn out that this is the rule for most tumour rejection antigens. It is our hope that other genes coding for mouse and human tumour rejection antigens will soon be identified, so that it will become clear whether the activational mechanism is the rule or the exception. In our view, this is a crucial issue. Insofar as tumour rejection antigens result from mutations, they may be highly specific for every individual tumour. The tumour specific nature of these antigens would then be easily ascertained. However, active immunization of cancer patients would require that a tumour cell line be obtained from each patient, a most unpractical prospect. If, on the other hand, production of tumour rejection antigens results from the activation of a normal gene, then there is a good probability that the same gene may be activated in many different tumours, being perhaps preferentially shared by tumours of the same histological type. This would probably not result in the expression of the same antigen in all these tumours, because the patients would differ in their presenting molecules, which are determined by their HLA haplotype. However, a subset of the tumours expressing the same "tumour rejection" gene should share the same class I restricting element, so that all of these patients could be immunized with a cell that would express the gene and carry the appropriate HLA molecule.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)


Journal article


Cancer surveys

Publication Date





23 - 37


Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Brussels Branch, Belgium.


T-Lymphocytes, Animals, Humans, Neoplasms, Experimental, Antigens, Neoplasm, Transfection, Immunologic Surveillance, Graft Rejection, Base Sequence, Mutation, Molecular Sequence Data