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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.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





169 - 184


School of Biological Sciences, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK.


Cell Line, Tumor, Animals, Marsupialia, Facial Neoplasms, Peptides, Cancer Vaccines, Antigens, Neoplasm, Histocompatibility Antigens Class I, Immunotherapy, Antigen Presentation, Histocompatibility, Amino Acid Motifs, Protein Binding, Polymorphism, Genetic, Neoplastic Cells, Circulating