Background: Targeting of protein antigens to dendritic cells (DC) via the DEC205 receptor enhances presentation of antigen-derived peptides on MHC-I and MHC-II molecules and, in the presence of costimulatory signals, antigen-specific immune responses. The immunogenicity and efficacy of DNA vaccination can also be enhanced by fusing the encoded antigen to single chain antibodies directed against DEC205. To further improve this strategy, we evaluated different toll-like receptor ligands (TLR) and CD40 ligands (CD40L) as adjuvants for DNA vaccines encoding a DEC205-single-chain antibody fused to the ovalbumin model antigen or HIV-1 Gag and assessed the priming efficacy of DNA in a DNA prime adenoviral vector boost immunization regimen. Results: Mice were primed with the adjuvanted DEC-205 targeted DNA vaccines and boosted with adenoviral vectors encoding the same antigens. CD8+ T cell responses were determined after the adenoviral booster immunization, to determine how well the different DNA immunization regimens prime for the adenoviral boost. In the absence of adjuvants, targeting of DNA-encoded ovalbumin to DCs suppressed CD8+ T-cell responses after the adenoviral booster immunization. CD8+ T-cell responses to the DEC205 targeted DNA vaccines increased only slightly by adding either the TLR-9 ligand CpG, the TLR-3 ligand Poly I:C, or CD40 ligand expression plasmids. However, the combination of both TLR-ligands led to a strong enhancement of CD8+ T-cell responses compared to a non-targeted DNA vaccine. This finding was confirmed using HIV Gag as antigen. Conclusion: Although DNA prime adenoviral vector boost immunizations belong to the strongest inducers of cytotoxic T cell responses in different animal models and humans, the CD8+ T cell responses can be further improved by targeting the DNA encoded antigen to DEC205 in the presence of synergistic TLR ligands CpG and Poly I:C.
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