Cancer immunotherapy approaches have emerged as novel treatment regimens against cancer. A particularly interesting avenue is the concept of in situ vaccination, where immunostimulatory agents are introduced into an identified tumor to overcome local immunosuppression and, if successful, mount systemic antitumor immunity. We had previously shown that nanoparticles from cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV) are highly potent in inducing long-lasting antitumor immunity when used as an in situ vaccine in various tumor mouse models. Here we asked whether the nanoparticles from tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) could also be applied as an in situ vaccine and, if so, whether efficacy or mechanism of immune-activation would be affected by the nanoparticle size (300 × 18 nm native TMV vs 50 × 18 nm short TMV nanorods), shape (nanorods vs spherical TMV, termed SNP), or state of assembly (assembled TMV rod vs free coat protein, CP). Our studies indicate that CPMV, but less so TMV, elicits potent antitumor immunity after intratumoral treatment of dermal melanoma (B16F10 using C57BL/6 mice). TMV and TMVshort slowed tumor growth and increased survival time, however, at significantly lower potency compared to that of CPMV. There were no apparent differences between TMV, TMVshort, or the SNP indicating that the aspect ratio does not necessarily play a role in plant viral in situ vaccines. The free CPs did not elicit an antitumor response or immunostimulation, which may indicate that a multivalent assembly is required to trigger an innate immune recognition and activation. Differential potency of CPMV vs TMV can be explained with differences in immune-activation: data indicate that CPMV stimulates an antitumor response through recruitment of monocytes into the tumor microenvironment (TME), establishing signaling through the IFN-γ pathway, which also leads to recruitment of tumor-infiltrated neutrophils (TINs) and natural killer (NK) cells. Furthermore, the priming of the innate immune system also mounts an adaptive response with CD4+ and CD8+ T cell recruitment and establishment of effector memory cells. While the TMV treatment also lead to the recruitment of innate immune cells as well as T cells (although to a lesser degree), key differences were noted in cyto/chemokine profiling with TMV inducing a potent immune response early on characterized by strong pro-inflammatory cytokines, primarily IL-6. Together, data indicate that some plant viral nanotechnology platforms are more suitable for application as in situ vaccines than others; understanding the intricate differences and underlying mechanism of immune-activation may set the stage for clinical development of these technologies.
Keywords: cancer; cowpea mosaic virus; immunotherapy; in situ vaccination; melanoma; tobacco mosaic virus.