Defective DNA mismatch repair (dMMR) is associated with many cancer types including colon, gastric, endometrial, ovarian, hepatobiliary tract, urinary tract, brain and skin cancers. Lynch syndrome – a hereditary cause of dMMR – confers increased lifetime risk of malignancy in different organs and tissues. These Lynch syndrome pathogenic alleles are widely present in humans at a 1:320 population frequency of a single allele and associated with an up to 80% risk of developing microsatellite unstable cancer (microsatellite instability – high, or MSI-H). Advanced MSI-H tumors can be effectively treated with checkpoint inhibitors (CPI), however, that has led to response rates of only 30-60% despite their high tumor mutational burden and favorable immune gene signatures in the tumor microenvironment (TME). We and others have characterized a subset of MSI-H associated highly recurrent frameshift mutations that yield shared immunogenic neoantigens. These frameshifts might serve as targets for off-the-shelf cancer vaccine designs. In this review we discuss the current state of research around MSI-H cancer vaccine development, its application to MSI-H and Lynch syndrome cancer patients and the utility of MSI-H as a biomarker for CPI therapy. We also summarize the tumor intrinsic mechanisms underlying the high occurrence rates of certain frameshifts in MSI-H. Finally, we provide an overview of pivotal clinical trials investigating MSI-H as a biomarker for CPI therapy and MSI-H vaccines. Overall, this review aims to inform the development of novel research paradigms and therapeutics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number757804
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
StatePublished - 24 Sep 2021


  • Lynch syndrome
  • MSI-H
  • cancer vaccine
  • dMMR
  • immunotherapy


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