Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) are effective components of the immune system capable of destroying tumor cells. Generation of CTLs using peptide vaccines is a practical approach to treat cancer. We have previously described a peptide vaccination strategy that generates vast numbers of endogenous tumor-reactive CTLs after two sequential immunizations (prime-boost) using poly-ICLC adjuvant, which stimulates endosomal toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3) and cytoplasmic melanoma differentiation antigen 5 (MDA5). Dendritic cells (DCs) play an important role not only in antigen presentation but are critical in generating costimulatory cytokines that promote CTL expansion. Poly-ICLC was shown to be more effective than poly-IC in generating type-I interferon (IFN-I) in various DC subsets, through its enhanced ability to escape the endosomal compartment and stimulate MDA5. In our system, IFN-I did not directly function as a T cell costimulatory cytokine, but enhanced CTL expansion through the induction of IL15. With palmitoylated peptide vaccines, CD8α+ DCs were essential for peptide crosspresentation. For vaccine boosts, non-professional antigen-presenting cells were able to present minimal epitope peptides, but DCs were still required for CTL expansions through the production of IFN-I mediated by poly-ICLC. Overall, these results clarify the roles of DCs, TLR3, MDA5, IFN-I and IL15 in the generation of vast and effective antitumor CTL responses using peptide and poly-IC vaccines.
Keywords: Dendritic cells; Interleukin-15; MDA5; Peptide vaccines; Poly-IC; Type-I interferon.