The immunopeptidomes of two transmissible cancers and their host have a common, dominant peptide motif


Transmissible cancers are malignant cells that can spread between individuals of a population, akin to both a parasite and a mobile graft. The survival of the Tasmanian devil, the largest remaining marsupial carnivore, is threatened by the remarkable emergence of two independent lineages of transmissible cancer, devil facial tumour (DFT) 1 and devil facial tumour 2 (DFT2). To aid the development of a vaccine and to interrogate how histocompatibility barriers can be overcome, we analysed the peptides bound to major histocompatibility complex class I (MHC-I) molecules from Tasmanian devil cells and representative cell lines of each transmissible cancer. Here, we show that DFT1 + IFN-γ and DFT2 cell lines express a restricted repertoire of MHC-I allotypes compared with fibroblast cells, potentially reducing the breadth of peptide presentation. Comparison of the peptidomes from DFT1 + IFNγ, DFT2 and host fibroblast cells demonstrates a dominant motif, despite differences in MHC-I allotypes between the cell lines, with preference for a hydrophobic leucine residue at position 3 and position Ω of peptides. DFT1 and DFT2 both present peptides derived from neural proteins, which reflects a shared cellular origin that could be exploited for vaccine design. These results suggest that polymorphisms in MHC-I molecules between tumours and host can be ‘hidden’ by a common peptide motif, providing the potential for permissive passage of infectious cells and demonstrating complexity in mammalian histocompatibility barriers.