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Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2008 Nov;57(11):1625-34. doi: 10.1007/s00262-008-0496-3. Epub 2008 Mar 7.

Immunotherapy of neuroblastoma by an Interleukin-21-secreting cell vaccine involves survivin as antigen.

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Laboratory of Immunological Therapy, Istituto Nazionale per la Ricerca sul Cancro, Largo Benzi 10, 16132 Genoa, Italy.



IL-21 is the most recently identified member of the IL-2 cytokine family. Here we studied the therapeutic efficacy of IL-21-gene-modified cells (Neuro2a/IL-21) in a syngeneic metastatic neuroblastoma (NB) model.


Neuro2a/IL-21 cells were tested as subcutaneous (sc) vaccine both in prophylactic and therapeutic settings. Depletion studies, cytotoxicity assay and immunohistochemical analyses were carried out to evaluate the mechanisms involved in tumor rejection.


When injected sc in syngeneic A/J mice viable Neuro2a/IL-21 cells were rejected and induced resistance to a subsequent iv challenge with Neuro2a parental cells (Neuro2a/pc), suggesting the involvement of an immune response. More importantly, in mice bearing Neuro2a/pc micrometastases, a single sc injection of Neuro2a/IL-21 cells significantly increased the mean tumor-free survival of treated animals (43 vs. 22 days) and cured 14% of them. The administration of two or three doses of Neuro2a/IL-21 cell vaccine further increased the mean survival time to 54 and 75 days, and the cure rate to 27 and 33%, respectively, whereas the use of unmodified Neuro2a or mock-transfected cells had no effect. In vivo cell subset depletion and a Winn-assay indicated the involvement of CD8 + CTLs. Immunohistochemical analysis indicated a reduction of CD31+ and VEGFR2+ microvessels in late metastases from therapeutically vaccinated mice. A role of survivin as antigen was suggested by in vitro assays using survivin-synthetic CTL-epitopes.


Our present data indicate that IL-21-secreting NB cells are effective as therapeutic vaccine in mice bearing metastatic NB, through a specific CTL response involving survivin as antigen, and suggest a potential interest for IL-21 in NB immuno-gene therapy.

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