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Clin Cancer Res. 2012 Jun 1;18(11):3122-31. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-12-0113. Epub 2012 Apr 17.

Dendritic cell-activating vaccine adjuvants differ in the ability to elicit antitumor immunity due to an adjuvant-specific induction of immunosuppressive cells.

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  • 1Tumor Vaccine Group, Center for Translational Medicine in Women's Health, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98109, USA. ydang@u.washington.edu



We questioned whether the vaccine adjuvant combination of TLR-7 ligand agonist, imiquimod, with granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) would result in enhanced dendritic cell recruitment and activation with increased antigen-specific immunity as compared with either adjuvant used alone.


The adjuvant effects of GM-CSF and imiquimod were studied in ovalbumin (OVA) and MMTVneu transgenic mice using peptide-based vaccines. Type I immunity, serum cytokines, myeloid-derived suppressive cells (MDSC), and regulatory T cells (Treg) levels were examined.


Both GM-CSF and imiquimod equally induced local accumulation and activation of dendritic cells. Both adjuvants effectively enhanced OVA-specific T-cell responses. We further evaluated the antitumor efficacy of adjuvant GM-CSF and imiquimod immunizing against murine insulin-like growth factor-binding protein-2 (IGFBP-2), a nonmutated oncoprotein overexpressed in the tumors of MMTVneu transgenic mice. Tumor growth was significantly inhibited in the mice receiving IGFBP-2 peptides with GM-CSF (P = 0.000), but not in imiquimod vaccine-treated groups (P = 0.141). Moreover, the addition of imiquimod to GM-CSF negated the antitumor activity of the vaccine when GM-CSF was used as the sole adjuvant. While GM-CSF stimulated significant levels of antigen-specific T-helper cell (T(H))1, imiquimod induced elevated serum interleukin (IL)-10. Both MDSC and Tregs were increased in the imiquimod-treated but not GM-CSF-treated groups (P = 0.000 and 0.006, respectively). Depleting MDSC and Treg in animals immunized with imiquimod and IGFBP-2 peptides restored antitumor activity to the levels observed with vaccination using GM-CSF as the sole adjuvant.


Adjuvants may induce regulatory responses in the context of a self-antigen vaccine. Adjuvant triggered immunosuppression may limit vaccine efficacy and should be evaluated in preclinical models especially when contemplating combination approaches.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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