Transcutaneous immunization (TCI) of melanoma-bearing mice with the TLR7 agonist, imiquimod, and a tumor antigen-specific peptide in combination with anti-CTLA-4 increased primary and memory CD8+ T cell responses compared with TCI alone, in a Treg-independent manner. The combination therapy improved survival, but failed to completely reject the tumor.
BACKGROUND: The epidermal application of the Toll Like Receptor 7 agonist imiquimod and a T-cell peptide epitope (transcutaneous immunization, TCI) mediates systemic peptide-specific cytotoxic T-cell (CTL) responses and leads to tumor protection in a prophylactic tumor setting. However, it does not accomplish memory formation or permanent defiance of tumors in a therapeutic set-up. As a distinct immunologic approach, CTLA-4 blockade augments systemic immune responses and has shown long-lasting effects in preclinical experiments as well as in clinical trials. OBJECTIVE: The study investigates the vaccination capacity of TCI in combination with the checkpoint inhibitor CTLA-4 in matters of primary response, memory formation and tumor protection and characterizes the role of regulatory T cells (Tregs). METHODS: After performing TCI with IMI-Sol (containing 5% Imiquimod) and the model epitope SIINFEKL, 6-8 week old C57BL/6 mice received anti-CTLA-4 antibody either s.c or i.p. The CTL responses and frequency of peptide specific CD8+ T-cells were then evaluated on day 8. To determine anti-tumor effects, a therapeutic tumor challenge with B16 OVA melanoma was performed. RESULTS: The combination of s.c. anti-CTLA-4 antibody and TCI leads to an enhanced systemic cytotoxic response, to memory formation and allows significantly improved survival in a tumor setting with B16 OVA melanoma. Towards the mechanism, we show that in this vaccination protocol the CTLA-4 antibody acts mainly Treg-independent. CONCLUSION: We demonstrate that the combination of TCI with IMI-Sol and anti-CTLA-4 can confer potent immune responses and tumor-protection. These results might contribute to the development of advanced vaccination approaches targeting tumors or persistent infectious diseases.