Topical immunomodulators--progress towards treating inflammation, infection, and cancer

Lancet Infect Dis. 2001 Oct;1(3):189-98. doi: 10.1016/s1473-3099(01)00095-0.


Immunomodulators include both immunostimulatory and immunosuppressive agents. Only recently have the basic mechanisms of topical immunotherapy been elucidated. Besides topical contact sensitisers (eg, diphencyprone or dinitrochlorobenzene), newer agents of the imidazoquinoline family such as imiquimod and resiquimod act by inducing cytokine secretion from monocytes or macrophages (interferon-alpha, interleukin-12, tumour-necrosis factor-alpha). The locally generated immune milieu leads to a Th1-dominance and cell-mediated immunity that have been used clinically to treat viral infections such as human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes simplex virus (HSV), mollusca, and cancerous lesions including initial squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma in immunocompetent and immunosuppressed patients. While these agents improve antigen-presentation by dendritic cells, they also act on B cells and lead to the synthesis of antibodies such as IgG2a much like the recently discovered immunostimulatory CpG-sequences that stimulate innate immunity. These sequences act as "danger signals" since they occur in bacterial and viral DNA, but are selectively methylated and inactivated in the mammalian genome. They share the induction of the same cytokines as imidazoquinolines but they show different magnitudes and kinetics of response. Topical immunotherapy with immunostimulatory agents shows potential for effective and patient-friendly treatment of inflammatory, infectious, and cancerous skin diseases. Immunoenhancers such as imdazoquinolines and CpG-sequences also have adjuvant properties that could improve conventional (protein) and DNA vaccination against cancer, atopy, and allergies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / administration & dosage
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / therapeutic use*
  • Administration, Topical
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Active
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Immunologic Factors / immunology
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use
  • Infections / drug therapy
  • Infections / immunology
  • Inflammation / drug therapy
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Oligodeoxyribonucleotides / immunology
  • Oligodeoxyribonucleotides / therapeutic use
  • Vaccines / immunology


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • CPG-oligonucleotide
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Oligodeoxyribonucleotides
  • Vaccines