Evaluation of biological effects of adjuvants on immune cells has been assessed in a limited number of studies. Moreover, no data are available on samples derived from cancer patients who may have a severe immune impairment. The effects of a novel RNA-based adjuvant (RNAdjuvant® developed by CureVac) were assessed in an ex vivo setting on PBMCs obtained from 8 healthy volunteers and 17 HCC patients, using a multiparametric approach to analyze network dynamics of early immune responses. Evaluation of CD80, CD86 and HLA-DR expression, cytokine production as well as gene expression was performed. Moreover, the downstream effect on CD4+ T cell phenotyping was evaluated. Treatment with RNAdjuvant® showed comparable effects on PBMCs of both HCC and healthy subjects. In particular, CD80, CD86 and HLA-DR expression was found up-regulated in circulating dendritic cells, which promoted a CD4+ T cell differentiation toward an effector phenotype. A mixed Th1/Th2 cytokine pattern was induced, although a more predominant production of TNFα and IFNγ was observed in HCC patients versus healthy controls. The cytokine profile was further confirmed by gene transcriptional analysis, which showed up-regulation of several genes involved in innate and adaptive immune-related pathways. The present study is the first demonstration that HCC patients and healthy subjects are equally responsive to an adjuvant. This may suggest that the same vaccine formulation including the RNAdjuvant® might have similar potency in healthy subjects and cancer patients.
Keywords: Cancer vaccine; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Immune response; RNAdjuvant.