To date, dozens of melanoma-associated antigens (MAGEs) have been identified and classified into 2 subgroups, I and II. Subgroup I consists of antigens which expression is generally restricted to tumor or germ cells, also named as cancer/testis (CT) antigen. Proteins and peptides derived from some of these antigens have been utilized in promising clinical trials of immunotherapies for gastrointestinal carcinoma, esophageal carcinoma, pulmonary carcinoma and so on. Various MAGE family members play important physiological and pathological roles during embryogenesis, germ cell genesis, apoptosis, etc. However, little is known regarding the role of MAGE family members in cell activities. It is reasonable to speculate that the genes for subgroup I MAGEs, which play important roles during embryogenesis, could be later deactivated by a genetic mechanism such as methylation. In the case of tumor formation, these genes are reactivated and the resultant proteins may be recognized and attacked by the immune system. Thus, the subgroup I MAGEs may play important roles in the immune surveillance of certain tumor types. Here, we review the classifications of MAGE family genes and what is known of their biological functions.
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