Interleukin-12 in anti-tumor immunity and immunotherapy

Cytokine Growth Factor Rev. 2002 Apr;13(2):155-68. doi: 10.1016/s1359-6101(01)00032-6.


Interleukin-12 (IL-12) has an essential role in the interaction between the innate and adaptive arms of immunity by regulating inflammatory responses, innate resistance to infection, and adaptive immunity. Endogenous IL-12 is required for resistance to many pathogens and to transplantable and chemically induced tumors. In experimental tumor models, recombinant IL-12 treatment has a dramatic anti-tumor effect on transplantable tumors, on chemically induced tumors, and in tumors arising spontaneously in genetically modified mice. IL-12 utilizes effector mechanisms of both innate resistance and adaptive immunity to mediate anti-tumor resistance. IFN-gamma and a cascade of other secondary and tertiary pro-inflammatory cytokines induced by IL-12 have a direct toxic effect on the tumor cells or may activate potent anti-angiogenic mechanisms. The stimulating activity of IL-12 on antigen-specific immunity relies mostly on its ability to determine or augment Th1 and cytotoxic T lymphocyte responses. Because of this ability, IL-12 has a potent adjuvant activity in cancer and other vaccines. The promising data obtained in the pre-clinical models of anti-tumor immunotherapy have raised much hope that IL-12 could be a powerful therapeutic agent against cancer. However, excessive clinical toxicity and modest clinical response observed in the clinical trials point to the necessity to plan protocols that minimize toxicity without affecting the anti-tumor effect of IL-12.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cancer Vaccines / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Interferon-gamma / pharmacology
  • Interleukin-12 / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-12 / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Recombinant Proteins / pharmacology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / metabolism
  • Th1 Cells
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Interleukin-12
  • Interferon-gamma