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Dendritic cells for active anti-cancer immunotherapy: targeting activation pathways through genetic modification.

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Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Therapy, Department of Physiology-Immunology, Medical School of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Laarbeeklaan 103 building E, 1090 Jette, Belgium.


Tumour immunotherapy has become a treatment modality for cancer, harnessing the immune system to recognize and eradicate tumour cells specifically. It is based on the expression of tumour associated antigens (TAA) by the tumour cells and aims at the induction of TAA-specific effector T cell responses, whilst overruling various mechanisms that can hamper the anti-tumour immune response, e.g. regulatory T cells (Treg). (Re-) activation of effector T cells requires the completion of a carefully orchestrated series of specific steps. Particularly important is the provision of TAA presentation and strong stimulatory signals, delivered by co-stimulatory surface molecules and cytokines. These can only be delivered by professional antigen-presenting cells, in particular dendritic cells (DC). Therefore, DC need to be loaded with TAA and appropriately activated. It is not surprising that an extensive part of DC research has focused on the delivery of both TAA and activation signals to DC, developing a one step approach to obtain potent stimulatory DC. The simultaneous delivery of TAA and activation signals is therefore the topic of this review, emphasizing the role of DC in mediating T cell activation and how we can manipulate DC for the pill-pose of enhancing tumour immunotherapy. As we gain a better understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms that mediate induction of TAA-specific T cells, rational approaches for the activation of T cell responses can be developed for the treatment of cancer.

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