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Keywords:

  • tumor immunology;
  • T cell;
  • immunotolerance;
  • costimulation;
  • vaccination

Abstract

Tumor cells express tumor-associated antigens (TAAs), which can serve as targets for the immune system. However, the majority of TAAs are overexpressed products of normal cellular genes; as such, self-tolerance mechanisms have hindered their use for the induction of effective antitumor responses. One such normal self-protein is the growth factor receptor Her-2/neu, which is overexpressed in 25–35% of all mammary carcinomas in humans. In previous studies, we have demonstrated that Her-2/neu mice are functionally tolerant to neu antigens and contain only a low avidity T-cell repertoire to neu antigens. However, this residual low-avidity T-cell repertoire has antitumor activity. In this study, we compared the immune responses of Her-2/neu mice immunized with dendritic cells (DCs) pulsed with soluble neu protein or with apoptotic tumor cells. Analysis of the antitumor response shows that Her-2/neu mice vaccinated with DCs pulsed with Her-2/neu antigens retard tumor growth; however, vaccination with DCs pulsed with apoptotic tumor cells induces a stronger antitumor effect. Administration of multiple immunizations in combination with the costimulatory agonist anti-OX40 or anti-4-1BB MAb significantly enhanced the immune responses in these mice, resulting in complete tumor rejection if the tumor burden was small and substantial tumor reduction with a larger tumor burden. These results have important implications for the design of tumor vaccination strategies, suggesting that the use of vaccines that stimulate a broad immune response in combination with costimulatory molecules as immunomodulators could significantly improve the antitumor immune response in tolerant hosts. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.