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Abstract

We and others have previously shown that both cimetidine (CIM) and levamisole (LMS) enhance humoral and cellular responses to DNA vaccines via different mechanisms. In this study, we investigated the synergistic and additive effects of CIM and LMS on the potency of antigen-specific immunities generated by a DNA vaccine encoding the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg, pVax-S2). Compared with CIM or LMS alone, the combination of CIM and LMS elicited a robust HBsAg-specific cellular response that was characterized by higher IgG2a, but did not further increase HBsAg-specific antibody IgG and IgG1 production. Consistent with these results, the combination of CIM and LMS produced the highest level of IL-2 and IFN-γ in antigen-specific CD4+ T cells, whereas the combination of CIM and LMS did not further increase IL-4 production. Significantly, a robust HBsAg-specific cytotoxic response was also observed in the animals immunized with pVax-S2 in the presence of the combination of CIM and LMS. Further mechanistic studies demonstrated that the combination of CIM and LMS promoted dendritic cell (DC) activation and blocked anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 and TGF-β production in CD4+CD25+ T cells. These findings suggest that CIM and LMS have the synergistic and additive ability to enhance cellular response to hepatitis B virus DNA vaccine, which may be mediated by DC activation and inhibition of anti-inflammatory cytokine expression. Thus, the combination of cimetidine and levamisole may be useful as an effective adjuvant in DNA vaccinations for chronic hepatitis B virus infection.