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Vaccine. 1999 Dec 10;18(9-10):765-77.

DNA and RNA-based vaccines: principles, progress and prospects.

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National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Building 10, Bethesda, MD 20892-1502, USA.


DNA vaccines were introduced less than a decade ago but have already been applied to a wide range of infectious and malignant diseases. Here we review the current understanding of the mechanisms underlying the activities of these new vaccines. We focus on recent strategies designed to enhance their function including the use of immunostimulatory (CpG) sequences, dendritic cells (DC), co-stimulatory molecules and cytokine- and chemokine-adjuvants. Although genetic vaccines have been significantly improved, they may not be sufficiently immunogenic for the therapeutic vaccination of patients with infectious diseases or cancer in clinical trials. One promising approach aimed at dramatically increasing the immunogenicity of genetic vaccines involves making them 'self-replicating'. This can be accomplished by using a gene encoding RNA replicase, a polyprotein derived from alphaviruses, such as Sindbis virus. Replicase-containing RNA vectors are significantly more immunogenic than conventional plasmids, immunizing mice at doses as low as 0.1 microg of nucleic acid injected once intramuscularly. Cells transfected with 'self-replicating' vectors briefly produce large amounts of antigen before undergoing apoptotic death. This death is a likely result of requisite double-stranded (ds) RNA intermediates, which also have been shown to super-activate DC. Thus, the enhanced immunogenicity of 'self-replicating' genetic vaccines may be a result of the production of pro-inflammatory dsRNA, which mimics an RNA-virus infection of host cells.

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