EpCAM peptide-primed dendritic cell vaccination confers significant anti-tumor immunity in hepatocellular carcinoma cells

<div><p>Cancer stem-like cells (CSCs) may play a key role in tumor initiation, self-renewal, differentiation, and resistance to current treatments. Dendritic cells (DCs) play a vital role in host immune reactions as well as antigen presentation. In this study, we explored the suitability of using CSC peptides as antigen sources for DC vaccination against human breast cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) with the aim of achieving CSC targeting and enhancing anti-tumor immunity. CD44 is used as a CSC marker for breast cancer and EpCAM is used as a CSC marker for HCC. We selected CD44 and EpCAM peptides that bind to HLA-A2 molecules on the basis of their binding affinity, as determined by a peptide-T2 binding assay. Our data showed that CSCs express high levels of tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) as well as major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. Pulsing DCs with CD44 and EpCAM peptides resulted in the efficient generation of mature DCs (mDCs), thus enhancing T cell stimulation and generating potent cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs). The activation of CSC peptide-specific immune responses by the DC vaccine in combination with standard chemotherapy may provide better clinical outcomes in advanced carcinomas.</p></div>