A major obstacle to the development of T cell therapy for the treatment of human tumors has been the difficulty generating T cells specifically reactive with the tumor. Most of the characterized human tumor antigens have been classified as tumor associated, because of demonstrable expression at low levels in some normal cells, and thus have not been extensively studied as potential targets of a therapeutic immune response. However, the quantitative difference in expression of such antigens between the tumor and normal cells might permit the generation of antigen-specific T cells capable of selective antitumor and not autoimmune activity. To address this issue, transgenic (TG) mice were generated that expressed low levels of Friend murine leukemia virus (FMuLV) envelope protein in lymphoid cells under the control of an immunoglobulin promoter. This protein is expressed at high levels by a Friend virus-induced erythroleukemia of C57BL/6 (B6) origin, FBL, and has been shown to serve as an efficient tumor-specific rejection antigen in B6 mice. The env-TG mice were tolerant to envelope, as reflected by the failure to detect an envelope-specific response after in vivo priming and in vitro stimulation with preparations of FMuLV envelope. However, adoptively transferred envelope-specific T cells from immunized non-TG B6 mice mediated complete eradication of FBL tumor cells in TG mice, and did not induce detectable autoimmune damage to TG lymphoid tissues. The transferred immune cells were not permanently inactivated in the TG mice, since donor T cells responded to envelope after removal from the TG mice. The lack of autoimmune injury did not reflect inadequate expression of envelope by TG lymphocytes for recognition by T cells, since TG lymphocytes functioned effectively in vitro as stimulators for envelope-specific T cells. The results suggest that this and analogous strains of TG mice may prove useful for elucidating principles for the generation and therapeutic use of tumor-reactive T cells specific for tumor-associated antigens.

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