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Tumor epitopes – peptides that are presented on surface-bound MHC I proteins - provide targets for cancer immunotherapy and have been identified extensively in the annotated protein-coding regions of the genome. Motivated by the recent discovery of translated novel unannotated open reading frames (nuORFs) using ribosome profiling (Ribo-seq), we hypothesized that cancer-associated processes could generate nuORFs that can serve as a new source of tumor antigens that harbor somatic mutations or show tumor-specific expression. To identify cancer-specific nuORFs, we generated Ribo-seq profiles for 29 malignant and healthy samples, developed a sensitive analytic approach for hierarchical ORF prediction, and constructed a high-confidence database of translated nuORFs across tissues. Peptides from 3,555 unique translated nuORFs were presented on MHC I, based on analysis of an extensive dataset of MHC I-bound peptides detected by mass spectrometry, with >20-fold more nuORF peptides detected in the MHC I immunopeptidomes compared to whole proteomes. We further detected somatic mutations in nuORFs of cancer samples and identified nuORFs with tumor-specific translation in melanoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and glioblastoma. NuORFs thus expand the pool of MHC I-presented, tumor-specific peptides, targetable by immunotherapies.

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