Increasing the potency of dendritic cell based vaccines for the treatment of cancer
Tumours can be eradicated by T cells that recognise unique tumour-associated antigens. These T cells are initially stimulated by dendritic cells (DCs) that have acquired antigens from tumour tissue. Vaccination strategies that increase the frequencies of tumour-specific T cells by enhancing the activity of DCs are being evaluated in the clinic as novel cancer therapies. Our hypothesis is that existing DC-based vaccination strategies can be improved by stimulating toll-like receptor (TLR) signalling in the DCs, and also by encouraging interactions with iNKT cells, as these two activities are known to enhance DC function. It was also hypothesised that superior T cell responses could be induced by combining these two activities together. We used the TLR 4 agonist monophosphoryl lipid A (MPL) alone and in combination with other TLR agonists to achieve effective activation of bone marrow-derived DCs (BM-DCs) cultured in-vitro, which was characterised by upregulated expression of maturation markers on the cell surface, and enhanced release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Some TLR agonist combinations provided significantly enhanced activities in this regard, notably the combination of MPL with either the TLR 2 agonist Pam3Cys, or the TLR 7/8 agonist Resiquimod. Although in-vitro activated BM-DCs were unable to induce stronger antigen-specific CD8+ T cell responses after intravenous injection when compared to BMDCs without TLR stimulation, enhanced CD8+ T cell responses were achieved in-vivo with the co-administration of TLR ligands, implying that TLR stimulation needed to act on cells of the host. Further studies identified the langerin-expressing CD8ɑ+ splenic DC subset in the spleen as recipients of antigen that was transferred from injected cells, and that these recipients were participants in the cross-presentation and T cell priming activities driving the CD8+ T cell response after vaccination. Antigen-loaded BM-DCs carrying the NKT cell ligand ɑ-galactosylceramide (ɑ-GalCer) were found to consistently increase antigen-specific CD8+ T cell responses in-vivo, and also cytotoxic responses as seen in cytotoxic killing assays. Again, langerin-expressing CD8ɑ+ splenic DCs were shown to be involved in this response by acquiring antigen and ɑ-GalCer from the injected vaccine BM-DCs. Finally, it was possible to achieve even greater CD8+ T cell responses in-vivo by injecting BM-DCs carrying antigen and ɑ-GalCer, together with timely co-administration of the TLR agonist. These results suggest a reassessment of the activities of DC-based vaccines to include the important role of “courier” to DCs already resident in the host that can be exploited to improve vaccination outcomes.