Vaccination is an effective medical procedure of preventive medicine based on the induction of a long-lasting immunologic memory characterized by mechanisms endowed with high destructive potential and specificity. In the last few years, identification of tumor-associated antigens (TAA) has prompted the development of different strategies for antitumor vaccination, aimed at inducing specific recognition of TAA in order to elicit a persistent immune memory that may eliminate residual tumor cells and protect recipients from relapses. In this review characterization of TAA, different potential means of vaccination in experimental models and preliminary data from clinical trials in humans have been examined by the Working Group on Hematopoietic Cells.The method employed for preparing this review was that of informal consensus development. Members of the Working Group met four times and discussed the single points, previously assigned by the chairman, in order to achieve an agreement on different opinions and approve the final manuscript. Some of the authors of the present review have been working in the field of antitumor immunotherapy and have contributed original papers to peer-reviewed journals. In addition, the material examined in the present review includes articles and abstracts published in journals covered by the Science Citation Index and Medline.The cellular basis of antitumor immune memory consists in the generation and extended persistence of expanded populations of T- and B-lymphocytes that specifically recognize and react against TAA. The efficacy of the memory can be modulated by compounds, called "adjuvants", such as certain bacterial products and mineral oils, cytokines, chemokines, by monoclonal antibodies triggering co-stimulatory receptors. Strategies that have been shown in preclinical models to be efficient in protecting from tumor engraftment, or in preventing a tumor rechallenge, include vaccination by means of soluble proteins or peptides, recombinant viruses or bacteria as TAA genes vectors, DNA injection, tumor cells genetically modified to express co-stimulatory molecules and/or cytokines. The use of professional antigen-presenting cells, namely dendritic cells, either pulsed with TAA or transduced with tumor-specific genes, provides a useful alternative for inducing antitumor cytotoxic activity. Some of these approaches have been tested in phase I/II clinical trials in hematologic malignancies, such as lymphoproliferative diseases or chronic myeloid leukemia, and in solid tumors, such as melanoma, colon cancer, prostate cancer and renal cell carcinoma. Different types of vaccines, use of adjuvants, timing of vaccination as well as selection of patients eligible for this procedure are discussed in this review.Experimental models demonstrate the possibility of curing cancer through the active induction of a specific immune response to TAA. However, while pre-clinical research has identified several possible targets and strategies for tumor vaccination the clinical scenario is far more complex for a number of possible reasons. Since experimental data suggest that vaccination is more likely to be effective on small tumor burden, such as a minimal residual disease after conventional treatments, or tumors at an early stage of disease, better selection of patients will allow more reliable clinical results to be obtained. Moreover, a poor correlation is frequently observed between the ability of TAA to induce a T-cell response in vitro and clinical responses. Controversial findings may also be due to the techniques used for monitoring the immune status. Therefore, the development of reliable assays for efficient monitoring of the state of immunization of cancer patients against TAA is an important goal that will markedly improve the progress of antitumor vaccines. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED)
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