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J Virol. 2009 Dec;83(23):12266-78. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01597-09. Epub 2009 Sep 9.

Semliki forest virus expressing interleukin-12 induces antiviral and antitumoral responses in woodchucks with chronic viral hepatitis and hepatocellular carcinoma.

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  • 1Division of Gene Therapy, School of Medicine, Center for Applied Medical Research (CIMA), University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain.


A vector based on Semliki Forest virus (SFV) expressing high levels of interleukin-12 (SFV-enhIL-12) has previously demonstrated potent antitumoral efficacy in small rodents with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) induced by transplantation of tumor cells. In the present study, the infectivity and antitumoral/antiviral effects of SFV vectors were evaluated in the clinically more relevant woodchuck model, in which primary HCC is induced by chronic infection with woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV). Intratumoral injection of SFV vectors expressing luciferase or IL-12 resulted in high reporter gene activity within tumors and cytokine secretion into serum, respectively, demonstrating that SFV vectors infect woodchuck tumor cells. For evaluating antitumoral efficacy, woodchuck tumors were injected with increasing doses of SFV-enhIL-12, and tumor size was measured by ultrasonography following treatment. In five (83%) of six woodchucks, a dose-dependent, partial tumor remission was observed, with reductions in tumor volume of up to 80%, but tumor growth was restored thereafter. Intratumoral treatment further produced transient changes in WHV viremia and antigenemia, with >or=1.5-log(10) reductions in serum WHV DNA in half of the woodchucks. Antitumoral and antiviral effects were associated with T-cell responses to tumor and WHV antigens and with expression of CD4 and CD8 markers, gamma interferon, and tumor necrosis factor alpha in peripheral blood mononuclear cells, suggesting that immune responses against WHV and HCC had been induced. These experimental observations suggest that intratumoral administration of SFV-enhIL-12 may represent a strategy for treatment of chronic HBV infection and associated HCC in humans but indicate that this approach could benefit from further improvements.

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