To examine the immunological mechanisms involved in cancer gene therapy using the herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV-tk) gene and ganciclovir (GCV), murine hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells, BNL1ME A.7R.1, were transduced retrovirally with the HSV-tk gene. HSV-tk-transduced cells exhibited a more than 2,000-fold higher sensitivity to GCV compared with untransduced parental cells. When HSV-tk-transduced HCC cells were mixed with parental cells at a 50% ratio and implanted subcutaneously into immunocompetent syngeneic mice, complete inhibition of tumor formation was achieved by GCV treatment. Conversely, no significant inhibitory effects on tumor formation were observed in athymic nude mice. When established solid tumors in immunocompetent mice containing HSV-tk-transduced cells at an only 5% ratio were treated with GCV, marked infiltration by lymphocytes including CD4(+) and CD8(+) ones, and apoptotic death of tumor cells were induced, and significant reduction or even complete regression of tumors was achieved. Furthermore, such cured mice rejected rechallenge with parental HCC cells into the contraflank regions. Our results indicate that cancer gene therapy with the HSV-tk/GCV system can indeed induce efficient antitumor effects and protective immunity in immunocompetent mice but not in nude mice, indicating that T-cell-mediated immune responses may be a critical factor for achieving successful gene therapy against cancer using the HSV-tk/GCV system.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.