In cancer immunotherapy, robust and efficient activation of cytotoxic CD8(+) T cell immune responses is a promising, but challenging task. Dendritic cells (DCs) are well-known professional antigen presenting cells that initiate and regulate antigen-specific cytotoxic CD8(+) T cells that kill their target cells directly as well as secrete IFN-γ, a cytokine critical in tumor rejection. Here, we employed recently established protein cage nanoparticles, encapsulin (Encap), as antigenic peptide nanocarriers by genetically incorporating the OT-1 peptide of ovalbumin (OVA) protein to the three different positions of the Encap subunit. With them, we evaluated their efficacy in activating DC-mediated antigen-specific T cell cytotoxicity and consequent melanoma tumor rejection in vivo. DCs efficiently engulfed Encap and its variants (OT-1-Encaps), which carry antigenic peptides at different positions, and properly processed them within phagosomes. Delivered OT-1 peptides were effectively presented by DCs to naïve CD8(+) T cells successfully, resulting in the proliferation of antigen-specific cytotoxic CD8(+) T cells. OT-1-Encap vaccinations in B16-OVA melanoma tumor bearing mice effectively activated OT-1 peptide specific cytotoxic CD8(+) T cells before or even after tumor generation, resulting in significant suppression of tumor growth in prophylactic as well as therapeutic treatments. A large number of cytotoxic CD8(+) T cells that actively produce both intracellular and secretory IFN-γ were observed in tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes collected from B16-OVA tumor masses originally vaccinated with OT-1-Encap-C upon tumor challenges. The approaches we describe herein may provide opportunities to develop epitope-dependent vaccination systems that stimulate and/or modulate efficient and epitope-specific cytotoxic T cell immune responses in nonpathogenic diseases.
Keywords: antigen delivery; cytotoxic T cells; dendritic cells; encapsulin; vaccination.