We have shown that cytotoxic T lymphocytes specific for PR1, an HLA-A2-restricted nonopeptide derived from proteinase 3, kill leukemia cells and may contribute to the elimination of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) after treatment with IFN or allogeneic bone marrow transplant. Some patients with persistent disease also have circulating PR1-specific T cells, however, suggesting the likelihood of immune tolerance. Here we show that both high- and low-avidity PR1-specific T cells from the peripheral blood of healthy donors can be identified and selectively expanded in vitro. Although high-avidity PR1-specific T cells killed CML more effectively than low-avidity T cells, only high-avidity T cells underwent apoptosis when stimulated with high PR1 peptide concentration or when exposed to leukemia that overexpressed proteinase 3. No high-avidity PR1-specific T cells could be identified or expanded from newly diagnosed leukemia patients, whereas low-avidity T cells were readily expanded. Circulating high-avidity PR1-specific T cells were identified in IFN-sensitive patients in cytogenetic remission, however. These results provide evidence that CML shapes the host immune response and that leukemia outgrowth may result in part from leukemia-induced selective deletion of high-avidity PR1-specific T cells.
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