In prior studies, we delineated the landscape of neoantigens arising from nonsynonymous point mutations in a murine pancreatic cancer model, Panc02. We developed a peptide vaccine by targeting neoantigens predicted using a pipeline that incorporates the MHC binding algorithm NetMHC. The vaccine, when combined with immune checkpoint modulators, elicited a robust neoepitope-specific antitumor immune response and led to tumor clearance. However, only a small fraction of the predicted neoepitopes induced T cell immunity, similarly to that reported for neoantigen vaccines tested in clinical studies. While these studies have used binding affinities to MHC I as surrogates for T cell immunity, this approach does not include spatial information on the mutated residue that is crucial for TCR activation. Here, we investigate conformational alterations in and around the MHC binding groove induced by selected minimal neoepitopes, and we examine the influence of a given mutated residue as a function of its spatial position. We found that structural parameters, including the solvent-accessible surface area (SASA) of the neoepitope and the position and spatial configuration of the mutated residue within the sequence, can be used to improve the prediction of immunogenic neoepitopes for inclusion in cancer vaccines.
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