Background: CD40 and its ligand (CD40L) play a critical role in co-ordinating immune responses. CD40 is also expressed in lymphoid malignancies and a number of carcinomas. In carcinoma cells the physiological outcome of CD40 ligation depends on the level of receptor engagement with low levels promoting cell survival and high levels inducing cell death. The most profound induction of cell death in carcinoma cells is induced by membrane-bound rather than recombinant soluble CD40L, but like other TNF family ligands, it is cleaved from the membrane by matrix metalloproteinases.
Results: We have generated a replication-deficient adenovirus expressing a mutant CD40L that is resistant to metalloproteinase cleavage such that ligand expression is retained at the cell membrane. Here we show that the mutated, cleavage-resistant form of CD40L is a more potent inducer of apoptosis than wild-type ligand in CD40-positive carcinoma cell lines. Since transgene expression via replication-deficient adenovirus vectors in vivo is low, we have also engineered a conditionally replicating E1A-CR2 deleted adenovirus to express mutant CD40L, resulting in significant amplification of ligand expression and consequent enhancement of its therapeutic effect.
Conclusions: Combined with numerous studies demonstrating its immunotherapeutic potential, these data provide a strong rationale for the exploitation of the CD40-CD40L pathway for the treatment of solid tumours.