Background: Human cancer vaccines incorporating autologous tumor cells carry a risk of implantation and subsequent metastasis of viable tumor cells into the patient who is being treated. Despite the fact that the melanoma cell preparations used in a recent vaccine trial (Mel37) were gamma-irradiated (200 Gy), approximately 25% of the preparations failed quality control release criteria which required that the irradiated cells incorporate 3H-thymidine at no more than 5% the level seen in the non-irradiated cells. We have, therefore, investigated ultraviolet (UV)-irradiation as a possible adjunct to, or replacement for gamma-irradiation.
Methods: Melanoma cells were gamma- and/or UV-irradiated. 3H-thymidine uptake was used to assess proliferation of the treated and untreated cells. Caspase-3 activity and DNA fragmentation were measured as indicators of apoptosis. Immunohistochemistry and Western blot analysis was used to assess antigen expression.
Results: UV-irradiation, either alone or in combination with gamma-irradiation, proved to be extremely effective in controlling the proliferation of melanoma cells. In contrast to gamma-irradiation, UV-irradiation was also capable of inducing significant levels of apoptosis. UV-irradiation, but not gamma-irradiation, was associated with the loss of tyrosinase expression. Neither form of radiation affected the expression of gp100, MART-1/MelanA, or S100.
Conclusion: These results indicate that UV-irradiation may increase the safety of autologous melanoma vaccines, although it may do so at the expense of altering the antigenic profile of the irradiated tumor cells.