In cancer immunotherapy, the use of dendritic cell (DC)-based vaccination strategies can improve overall survival, but until now durable clinical responses remain scarce. To date, DC vaccines are designed primarily to induce effective T-cell responses, ignoring the antitumor activity potential of natural killer (NK) cells. Aiming to further improve current DC vaccination outcome, we engineered monocyte-derived DC to produce interleukin (IL)-15 and/or IL-15 receptor alpha (IL-15Rα) using mRNA electroporation. The addition of IL-15Rα to the protocol, enabling IL-15 transpresentation to neighboring NK cells, resulted in significantly better NK-cell activation compared to IL-15 alone. Next to upregulation of NK-cell membrane activation markers, IL-15 transpresentation resulted in increased NK-cell secretion of IFN-γ, granzyme B and perforin. Moreover, IL-15-transpresenting DC/NK cell cocultures from both healthy donors and acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients in remission showed markedly enhanced cytotoxic activity against NK cell sensitive and resistant tumor cells. Blocking IL-15 transpresentation abrogated NK cell-mediated cytotoxicity against tumor cells, pointing to a pivotal role of IL-15 transpresentation by IL-15Rα to exert its NK cell-activating effects. In conclusion, we report an attractive approach to improve antitumoral NK-cell activity in DC-based vaccine strategies through the use of IL-15/IL-15Rα mRNA-engineered designer DC.
Keywords: IL-15 receptor α; Immune response; Immunity; Immunology and Microbiology Section; dendritic cells; interleukin-15 transpresentation; mRNA elektroporation; natural killer cells.