Engagement of CD40 with CD40L induces dendritic cell (DC) maturation and activation, thereby promoting immune responses. The objective of this study was to investigate whether immunization with chimeric CD40L/SHIV virus-like particles (CD40L/SHIV-VLP) could enhance immune responses to SIV Gag and HIV Env proteins by directly activating DCs. We found that CD83, CD40, and CD86 were significantly up-regulated and significantly increased cytokines production were observed after hCD40L/SHIV-VLP treatment in human CD14(+) monocyte-derived DCs as compared to SHIV-VLP treatment. Mice immunized with mCD40L/SHIV-VLP showed more than a two-fold increase in HIV Env-specific IgG antibody production, an increase in SIV Gag and HIV Env-specific IFN-gamma and IL-4 producing cells, and an increase in HIV Env-specific cytotoxic activity compared to that in SHIV-VLP immunized mice. Furthermore, multifunctional CD4(+) Th1 cells, which simultaneously produce IFN-gamma, IL-2 and TNF-alpha triple cytokines, and CD8(+) T-cells, which produce IFN-gamma were elevated in the mCD40L/SHIV-VLP immunized group. These data demonstrate that chimeric CD40L/SHIV-VLP potently induce DC activation and enhance the magnitude of both humoral and cellular immune responses to the SIV Gag and HIV Env proteins in the mouse model. Therefore, incorporation of CD40L into VLP may represent a novel strategy to develop effective HIV vaccines.
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