Standardization of cell-based immunologic monitoring is becoming increasingly important as methods for measuring cellular immunity become more complex. We assessed the ability of two commonly used cell-based assays, tritiated thymidine incorporation (proliferation) and IFN-gamma ELISPOT, to predict T cell responses to HER-2/neu, tetanus toxoid (tt), and cytomegalovirus (CMV) antigens. These antigens were determined to be low (HER-2/neu), moderate (tt), and robustly (CMV) immunogenic proteins. Samples from 27 Stage II, III, and IV HER-2/neu positive breast cancer patients, vaccinated against the HER-2/neu protein and tt, were analyzed by tritiated thymidine incorporation and IFN-gamma ELISPOT for T cell response.
Linear regression analysis indicates that both stimulation index (SI) (p = 0.011) and IFN-gamma secreting precursor frequency (p < 0.001) are significant indicators of antigen specific immunity. ROC curves plotted to assess the performance of tritiated thymidine incorporation and the ELISPOT assay indicate that SI is a significant indicator of low T cell response to the HER-2/neu vaccine (p = 0.05), and of moderate and robust responses to tt (p = 0.01) and CMV (p = 0.016), respectively. IFN-gamma precursor frequency is a significant indicator of a robust T cell response to CMV (p = 0.03), but not of moderate tt (p = 0.09), or low HER-2/neu (p = 0.09) T cell responses.
These data underscore the importance of taking into consideration the performance characteristics of assays used to measure T cell immunity. This consideration is particularly necessary when determining which method to utilize for assessing responses to immunotherapeutic manipulations in cancer patients.