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Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2013 Mar;62(3):597-603. doi: 10.1007/s00262-012-1364-8. Epub 2012 Nov 4.

Palmitate-derivatized human IL-2: a potential anticancer immunotherapeutic of low systemic toxicity.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, 1601 Parkview Avenue, Rockford, IL 61107, USA.



Recombinant human IL-2 (rhIL-2) is a potent cytokine and FDA-approved anticancer drug. However, its clinical use has been limited by severe toxicity, associated primarily with systemic administration with excess protein distributing freely throughout the body. We hypothesized that rhIL-2 in alternate forms permitting more restricted localization may exert stronger antitumor efficacy and less toxicity. Here, we have tested the utility of palmitate-derivatized rhIL-2. rhIL-2 was reacted with N-hydroxysuccinimide palmitate ester. The resultant lipidated rhIL-2 (pIL-2), when mixed with cells, could spontaneously transfer from solution to cell surfaces. Next, anticancer efficacy of pIL-2 was assessed in two modalities. For adoptive T cell therapy, antitumor cytotoxic T cells (CTLs) were protein transferred ("painted") with pIL-2 and injected into mice bearing lymphoma. For in situ therapy, pIL-2 was injected intratumorally into mice bearing melanoma. Tumor growth and IL-2-associated toxicity were determined.


In the lymphoma model, painting of the antitumor CTLs with pIL-2 markedly increased their viability and titer. In the melanoma model, intratumoral injection of pIL-2, but not rhIL-2, increased the number of activated CD8(+) T cells (IFN-γ(+)) in the spleen, reduced lung metastasis and prolonged the survival of treated mice. Moreover, while repeated intratumoral injection of rhIL-2 at an excessively high dose (10 injections of 10,000 IU/mouse) caused marked vascular leakage syndrome, the same regimen using pIL-2 caused no detectable toxicity.


Transferring spontaneously from solution to cell surfaces, pIL-2 may bypass the current limitations of rhIL-2 and, thus, serve as a more effective and tolerable anticancer drug.

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