Anti-tumor immunity induced by ectopic expression of viral antigens is transient and limited by immune escape

Oncoimmunology. 2019 Feb 6;8(4):e1568809. doi: 10.1080/2162402X.2019.1568809. eCollection 2019.

Abstract

Immunotherapeutic treatments in head and neck cancer clinical trials include cancer vaccines targeting foreign viral antigens or mutational neoantigens derived from cancer-expressed proteins. Anti-tumor immune responses place cancer cells under selective pressure to lose or downregulate target antigens; therefore, vaccination against virus- or host- "driver" oncogenes are proposed as a strategy to overcome immune escape. Herein, we demonstrate the impact of immunogenic viral antigens on anti-tumor response and immune editing in MOC2-E6E7, a syngeneic murine oral cancer cell line expressing HPV-16 E6 and E7 oncoproteins. Using orthotopic syngeneic models, we observed in vivo tumor growth kinetics of MOC2-E6E7 is delayed in immunocompetent mice compared to parental MOC2 tumors. In contrast, tumor growth remained similar in Rag1-/- mice lacking adaptive immunity. MOC2-E6E7 tumors demonstrated an "inflamed" or immune-activated tumor microenvironment and greater infiltration of CD8+ T cells compared to MOC2. By real-time PCR, we detected downregulation of E6 and E7 genes in MOC2-E6E7 tumors only in immunocompetent mice, suggesting the loss of ectopic viral antigen expression due to immune editing. We then assessed the efficacy of a biomaterials-based mesoporous silica rod (MSR) cancer vaccine targeting HPV-16 E7 in our model. Vaccination induced robust infiltration of antigen-specific CD8+ T cells, which led to tumor growth delay and modestly prolonged survival in MOC2-E6E7 tumors. Increased efficacy was seen in a separate head and neck cancer tumor model, mEER, which obligately expresses E7 antigen. Collectively, our data highlight the need for both immunogenicity and 'driver' status of target antigens to be considered in cancer vaccine design.

Keywords: HPV16 E6 and E7; Immune editing; biomaterials; cancer vaccine; head and neck cancer; immunotherapy; mesoporous silica rods.