Sporadic immunogenic tumours avoid destruction by inducing T-cell tolerance


  • G. Willimsky
  • T. Blankenstein


  • Nature


  • Nature 437 (7055): 141-146


  • The recognition and elimination of tumours by T cells, a process termed cancer immunosurveillance, is effective against certain virus-associated cancers. Spontaneous tumours often induce a specific immune response and are therefore also immunogenic. However, it is not clear whether they can be controlled by T cells. The immunosurveillance hypothesis postulates that tumours, if they eventually grow, escaped T-cell recognition by losing immunogenicity. Here we show, by generating a mouse model of sporadic cancer based on rare spontaneous activation of a dormant oncogene, that immunogenic tumours do not escape their recognition but induce tolerance. In this model, tumours derive from single cells and express a tumour-specific transplantation rejection antigen. Whereas vaccinated mice remain tumour-free throughout their lifetime, naive mice always develop a progressively growing tumour. We also show that despite specific recognition by T cells, the tumours do not lose their intrinsic immunogenicity and are rejected after transplantation in T-cell-competent recipients. Furthermore, in the primary host tumour-induced tolerance is associated with the expansion of non-functional T cells. Together, our data argue against immunosurveillance of spontaneous cancer.