Post-translational modifications such as citrullination are excellent targets for cancer therapy
V.A. Brentville, M. Vankemmelbeke, R.L. Metheringham, L.G. Durrant
ABSTRACT: Under conditions of cellular stress, proteins can be post-translationally modified causing them to be recognized by the immune system. One such stress-induced post-translational modification (siPTM) is citrullination, the conversion of arginine residues to citrulline by peptidylarginine deiminase (PAD) enzymes. PAD enzymes are activated by millimolar concentrations of calcium which can occur during apoptosis, leading to precipitation of proteins, their subsequent uptake by B cells and stimulation of antibody responses. Detection of anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPAs) is a diagnostic of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), where immune complexes stimulate inflammation around the joints. More recently, autophagy has been shown to play a role in the presentation of citrullinated peptides on MHC class II molecules to CD4+ helper T cells, suggesting that citrullination may be a way of alerting immune cells to cellular stress. Additionally, inflammation-induced IFNγ and concomitant MHC class II expression on target cells contributes to immune activation. Stressful conditions in the tumour microenvironment induce autophagy in cancer cells as a pro-survival mechanism. Cancer cells also over express PAD enzymes and in light of this the hypothesis that citrullinated peptides stimulate CD4+ T cell responses that would recognize these siPTM’s produced during autophagy has been investigated. The induction of potent citrullinated peptide-specific CD4 responses has been shown in both humans and HLA transgenic mouse models. Responses in mouse models resulted in potent anti-tumour responses against tumours expressing either constitutive or IFNγ-inducible MHC class II. The anti-tumour effect relied upon direct recognition of tumours by specific CD4 T cells suggesting that citrullinated peptides are attractive targets for cancer vaccines.