Research Article

Cross-reactivity between tumor MHC class I–restricted antigens and an enterococcal bacteriophage

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Science  21 Aug 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6506, pp. 936-942
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax0701

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Phages and cancer immunity

Gut bacteria are involved in the education of T cell immune responses, and the intestinal ecosystem influences anticancer immunity. Fluckiger et al. report microbial antigens that might cross-react with antigens associated with tumor cells. They found that a type of intestinal bacteria called enterococci harbor a bacteriophage that modulates immune responses. In mouse models, administration of enterococci containing the bacteriophage boosted T cell responses after treatment with chemotherapy or programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) blockade. In humans, the presence of the bacteriophage was associated with improved survival after PD-1 immunotherapy. A fraction of human T cells specific for naturally processed melanoma epitopes appeared to be able to recognize microbial peptides. This “molecular mimicry” may represent cross-reactivity between tumors and microbial antigens.

Science, this issue p. 936


Intestinal microbiota have been proposed to induce commensal-specific memory T cells that cross-react with tumor-associated antigens. We identified major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I–binding epitopes in the tail length tape measure protein (TMP) of a prophage found in the genome of the bacteriophage Enterococcus hirae. Mice bearing E. hirae harboring this prophage mounted a TMP-specific H-2Kb–restricted CD8+ T lymphocyte response upon immunotherapy with cyclophosphamide or anti–PD-1 antibodies. Administration of bacterial strains engineered to express the TMP epitope improved immunotherapy in mice. In renal and lung cancer patients, the presence of the enterococcal prophage in stools and expression of a TMP–cross-reactive antigen by tumors correlated with long-term benefit of PD-1 blockade therapy. In melanoma patients, T cell clones recognizing naturally processed cancer antigens that are cross-reactive with microbial peptides were detected.

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