Improving immunotherapy of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) using dendritic cells (DC) engineered to express IL-12 in vivo




Interleukin 12 (IL-12), one of the most potent Th1-cytokines, has been used to improve dendritic cells (DC)-based immunotherapy of cancer. However, it failed to achieve clinical response in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In this study, improved conditions of immunotherapy with DC engineered to express IL-12 were studied in murine subcutaneous HCC.


Tumour-lysate pulsed DC were transduced with IL-12-encoding adenoviruses or cultivated with recombinant (r)IL-12. DC were injected intratumourally, subcutaneously or intravenously at different stages of tumour-development.


Dendritic cell overexpressing IL-12 by adenoviruses showed enhanced expression of costimulatory molecules and stronger priming of HCC-specific effector cells than DC cultured with rIL-12. Intratumoural but not systemic injections of IL-12-DC induced the strongest antitumoural effects reaching complete regressions in 75% of early-staged tumours and in 33% of advanced tumours. Importantly, antitumoural effects could be further enhanced through combination with sorafenib. Analysing the tumour-environment, IL-12-DC increased the levels of Th1-cytokines/chemokines and of CD4+-, CD8+-T- and NK-cells. Induced immunity was tumour-specific and sustained since all tumour-free animals were protected towards hepatic tumour-cell rechallenge. However, IL-12-DC also enhanced immunosuppressive cytokines, regulatory T cells and even myeloid-derived suppressor cells within the tumours.


Induced IL-12-overexpression by adenoviral vectors can effectively immunostimulate DC. Intratumoural but not systemic injection of activated IL-12-DC was crucial for effective tumour regression. The mechanism of this approach seems to be the induction of a sufficient Th1 tumour-environment allowing the recruitment of effector cells rather than the inhibition of tumour immunosuppression. Thus, improved immunotherapy with IL-12-DC represents a promising approach towards HCC.