Bonito et al. describe a novel vaccine platform using a mutated HIV-NEF protein to target attached antigen to the exosome pathway. A DNA vaccine encoding the construct and delivered to muscle produces exosomes containing the target antigen, induces strong T cell responses, and controls tumor growth in a therapeutic murine tumor model.
We recently proved that exosomes engineered in vitro to deliver high amounts of HPV E7 upon fusion with the Nefmut exosome-anchoring protein elicit an efficient anti-E7 cytotoxic T lymphocyte immune response. However, in view of a potential clinic application of this finding, our exosome-based immunization strategy was faced with possible technical difficulties including industrial manufacturing, cost of production, and storage. To overcome these hurdles, we designed an as yet unproven exosome-based immunization strategy relying on delivery by intramuscular inoculation of a DNA vector expressing Nefmut fused with HPV E7. In this way, we predicted that the expression of the Nefmut/E7 vector in muscle cells would result in a continuous source of endogenous (ie, produced by the inoculated host) engineered exosomes able to induce an E7-specific immune response. To assess this hypothesis, we first demonstrated that the injection of a Nefmut/green fluorescent protein-expressing vector led to the release of fluorescent exosomes, as detected in plasma of inoculated mice. Then, we observed that mice inoculated intramuscularly with a vector expressing Nefmut/E7 developed a CD8+ T-cell immune response against both Nef and E7. Conversely, no CD8+ T-cell responses were detected upon injection of vectors expressing either the wild-type Nef isoform of E7 alone, most likely a consequence of their inefficient exosome incorporation. The production of immunogenic exosomes in the DNA-injected mice was formally demonstrated by the E7-specific CD8+ T-cell immune response we detected in mice inoculated with exosomes isolated from plasma of mice inoculated with the Nefmut/E7 vector. Finally, we provide evidence that the injection of Nefmut/E7 DNA led to the generation of effective antigen-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes whose activity was likely part of the potent, therapeutic antitumor effect we observed in mice implanted with TC-1 tumor cells. In summary, we established a novel method to generate immunogenic exosomes in vivo by the intramuscular inoculation of DNA vectors expressing the exosome-anchoring protein Nefmut and its derivatives.