Open Access Open Badges Research

Cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses against melanocytes and melanoma

Gwendolen Y Chang1, Holbrook E Kohrt1, Tor B Stuge1, Erich J Schwartz2, Jeffrey S Weber3 and Peter P Lee1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, USA

2 Department of Pathology, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, USA

3 Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Florida, USA

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Journal of Translational Medicine 2011, 9:122  doi:10.1186/1479-5876-9-122

Published: 27 July 2011



Vitiligo is a common toxicity associated with immunotherapy for melanoma. Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) against melanoma commonly target melanoma-associated antigens (MAAs) which are also expressed by melanocytes. To uncouple vitiligo from melanoma destruction, it is important to understand if CTLs can respond against melanoma and melanocytes at different levels.


To understand the dichotomous role of MAA-specific CTL, we characterized the functional reactivities of established CTL clones directed to MAAs against melanoma and melanocyte cell lines.


CTL clones generated from melanoma patients were capable of eliciting MHC-restricted, MAA-specific lysis against melanocyte cell lines as well as melanoma cells. Among the tested HLA-A*0201-restricted CTL clones, melanocytes evoked equal to slightly higher degranulation and cytolytic responses as compared to melanoma cells. Moreover, MAA-specific T cells from vaccinated patients responded directly ex vivo to melanoma and melanocytes. Melanoma cells express slightly higher levels of MART-1 and gp100 than melanocytes as measured by quantitative reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) and immunohistochemistry.


Our data suggest that CTLs respond to melanoma and melanocytes equally in vitro and directly ex vivo.