Effective stimulation of immune cells is crucial for the success of cancer immunotherapies. Current approaches to evaluate the efficiency of stimuli are mainly defined by known flow cytometry-based cell activation or cell maturation markers. This method however does not give a complete overview of the achieved activation state and may leave important side effects unnoticed. Here, we used an unbiased RNA sequencing (RNA-seq)-based approach to compare the capacity of four clinical-grade dendritic cell (DC) activation stimuli used to prepare DC-vaccines composed of various types of DC subsets; the already clinically applied GM-CSF and Frühsommer meningoencephalitis (FSME) prophylactic vaccine and the novel clinical grade adjuvants protamine-RNA complexes (pRNA) and CpG-P. We found that GM-CSF and pRNA had similar effects on their target cells, whereas pRNA and CpG-P induced stronger type I interferon (IFN) expression than FSME. In general, the pathways most affected by all stimuli were related to immune activity and cell migration. GM-CSF stimulation, however, also induced a significant increase of genes related to nonsense-mediated decay, indicating a possible deleterious effect of this stimulus. Taken together, the two novel stimuli appear to be promising alternatives. Our study demonstrates how RNA-seq based investigation of changes in a large number of genes and gene groups can be exploited for fast and unbiased, global evaluation of clinical-grade stimuli, as opposed to the general limited evaluation of a pre-specified set of genes, by which one might miss important biological effects that are detrimental for vaccine efficacy.
Keywords: RNA sequencing; adjuvants; dendritic cells; immunotherapy; transcriptomics.