Cancer/testis (CT) antigens are a category of tumor antigens with normal expression restricted to male germ cells in the testis but not in adult somatic tissues. In some cases, CT antigens are also expressed in ovary and in trophoblast. In malignancy, this gene regulation is disrupted, resulting in CT antigen expression in a proportion of tumors of various types. Since their initial identification by T-cell epitope cloning, the list of CT antigens has been greatly expanded through serological expression cloning (SEREX) and differential mRNA expression analysis, and approximately 20 CT antigens or antigen families have been identified to date. Characteristics commonly shared by CT antigens, aside from the highly tissue-restricted expression profile, include existence as multigene families, frequent mapping to chromosome X, heterogeneous protein expression in cancer, likely correlation with tumor progression, induction of expression by hypomethylation and/or histone acetylation, and immunogenicity in cancer patients. Spontaneous humoral and cell-mediated immune responses have been demonstrated against several CT antigens, including NY-ESO-1, MAGE-A, and SSX antigens. Since CT antigens are immunogenic and highly restricted to tumors, their discovery has led directly to the development of antigen-specific cancer vaccines, and clinical trials with MAGE-A and NY-ESO-1 are in progress.
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