Cancer immunotherapy by interleukin-21: potential treatment strategies evaluated in a mathematical model

Cancer Res. 2006 Jul 15;66(14):7293-300. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-06-0241.


The newly characterized interleukin (IL)-21 plays a central role in the transition from innate immunity to adaptive immunity and shows substantial tumor regression in mice. IL-21 is now developed as a cancer immunotherapeutic drug, but conditions for efficacious therapy, and the conflicting immunostimulatory and immunoinhibitory influence of the cytokine, are yet to be defined. We studied the effects of IL-21 on tumor eradication in a mathematical model focusing on natural killer (NK) cell-mediated and CD8+ T-cell-mediated lysis of tumor cells. Model parameters were estimated using results in tumor-bearing mice treated with IL-21 via cytokine gene therapy (CGT), hydrodynamics-based gene delivery (HGD), or standard interval dosing (SID). Our model accurately retrieved experimental growth dynamics in the nonimmunogenic B16 melanoma and the immunogenic MethA and MCA205 fibrosarcomas, showing a strong dependence of the NK-cell/CD8+ T-cell balance on tumor immunogenicity. Moreover, in melanoma, simulations of CGT-like dosing regimens, dynamically determined according to tumor mass changes, resulted in efficient disease elimination. In contrast, in fibrosarcoma, such a strategy was not superior to that of fixed dosing regimens, HGD or SID. Our model supports clinical use of IL-21 as a potent stimulator of cellular immunity against cancer, and suggests selecting the immunotherapy strategy according to tumor immunogenicity. Nonimmunogenic tumors, but not highly immunogenic tumors, should be controlled by IL-21 dosing, which depends on tumor mass at the time of administration. This method imitates, yet amplifies, the natural anticancer immune response rather than accelerates only one of the response arms in an unbalanced manner.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Fibrosarcoma / immunology
  • Fibrosarcoma / therapy
  • Genetic Therapy / methods*
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Interleukins / genetics
  • Interleukins / immunology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Mathematical Computing
  • Melanoma, Experimental / immunology
  • Melanoma, Experimental / therapy
  • Mice
  • Models, Immunological*


  • Interleukins
  • interleukin-21