Chronic hepatitis C (HCV) infection is a substantial medical problem that leads to progressive liver disease, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The aim of this study was to achieve sustained cellular immune responses in vivo to a HCV nonstructural protein using dendritic cell (DC)-based immunization approach. We targeted the HCV NS5 protein to DCs in vivo by injecting microparticles loaded with this antigen. The DC population was expanded in BALB/C mice (H-2(d) ) by hydrodynamic injection of a plasmid pUMVC3-hFLex expressing the secreted portion of the human Fms-like tyrosine kinase receptor-3 ligand (hFlt3). Mice were subsequently injected with microparticles coated with HCV NS5 protein via the tail vein. Cellular immune responses were determined with respect to secretion of INFγ and IL2 by CD4(+) cells and cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) assays in vitro; inhibition of tumour cell growth was employed for the assessment of CD8(+) generated activity in vivo. We found that Flt3L treatment expanded the DC population in the spleen to 43%, and such cells displayed a striking upregulation of CD86 as well as CD80 and CD40 co-stimulating molecules. Viral antigen-specific T(H) 1 cytokine secretion by splenocytes was generated, and CTL activity against syngeneic NS5 expressing myeloma target cells was observed. In addition, these cells inhibited tumour growth indicating that NS5-specific robust CTL activity was operative in vivo. Thus, the capability of activating DCs in vivo using the methods described is valuable as a therapeutic vaccine strategy for chronic HCV infection.
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