The gut microbiota profile is unique for each individual and are composed by different bacteria species according to individual birth-to-infant transitions. In the last years, the local and systemic effects of microbiota on cancer onset, progression and response to treatments, such as immunotherapies, has been extensively described. Here we offer a new perspective, proposing a role for the microbiota based on the molecular mimicry of tumor associated antigens by microbiome-associated antigens.
In the present study we looked for homology between published TAAs and non-self microbiota-derived epitopes. Blast search for sequence homology was combined with extensive bioinformatics analyses.
Several evidences for homology between TAAs and microbiota-derived antigens have been found. Strikingly, three cases of 100% homology between the paired sequences has been identified. The predicted average affinity to HLA molecules of microbiota-derived antigens is very high (< 100nM). The structural conformation of the microbiota-derived epitopes is, in general, highly similar to the corresponding TAA. In some cases, it is identical and contact areas with both HLA and TCR chains are indistinguishable. Moreover, the spatial conformation of TCR-facing residues can be identical in paired TAA and microbiota-derived epitopes, with exactly the same values of planar as well as dihedral angles.
The data reported in the present study show for the first time the high homology in the linear sequence as well as in structure and conformation between TAAs and peptides derived from microbiota species of the Firmicutes and the Bacteriodetes phyla, which together account for 90% of gut microbiota. Cross-reacting CD8+ T cell responses are very likely induced. Therefore, the anti-microbiota T cell memory may turn out to be an anti-cancer T cell memory, able to control the growth of a cancer developed during the lifetime if the expressed TAA is similar to the microbiota epitope. This may ultimately represent a relevant selective advantage for cancer patients and may lead to a novel preventive anti-cancer vaccine strategy.