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J Invest Dermatol. 2009 Nov;129(11):2676-85. doi: 10.1038/jid.2009.151. Epub 2009 Jun 11.

Imiquimod enhances IFN-gamma production and effector function of T cells infiltrating human squamous cell carcinomas of the skin.

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Harvard Skin Disease Research Center and the Department of Dermatology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) are sun-induced skin cancers that are particularly numerous and aggressive in patients taking T-cell immunosuppressant medications. Imiquimod is a topical immune response modifier and Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7) agonist that induces the immunological destruction of SCC and other skin cancers. TLR7 activation by imiquimod has pleiotropic effects on innate immune cells, but its effects on T cells remain largely uncharacterized. Because tumor destruction and formation of immunological memory are ultimately T-cell-mediated effects, we studied the effects of imiquimod therapy on effector T cells infiltrating human SCC. SCC treated with imiquimod before excision contained dense T-cell infiltrates associated with tumor cell apoptosis and histological evidence of tumor regression. Effector T cells from treated SCC produced more IFN-gamma, granzyme, and perforin and less IL-10 and transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) than T cells from untreated tumors. Treatment of normal human skin with imiquimod induced activation of resident T cells and reduced IL-10 production but had no effect on IFN-gamma, perforin, or granzyme, suggesting that these latter effects arise from the recruitment of distinct populations of T cells into tumors. Thus, imiquimod stimulates tumor destruction by recruiting cutaneous effector T cells from blood and by inhibiting tonic anti-inflammatory signals within the tumor.

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