Recombinant Mycobacterium bovis bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) expressing mouse IL-18 augments Th1 immunity and macrophage cytotoxicity

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Interleukin-18 (IL-18) has been demonstrated to synergize with BCG for induction of a T-helper-type 1 (Th1) immune response. Since successful treatment of superficial bladder cancer with BCG requires proper induction of Th1 immunity, we have developed a recombinant (r) BCG strain that functionally secretes mouse (m) IL-18. This rBCG-mIL-18 strain significantly increased production of the major Th1 cytokine IFN-γ in splenocyte cultures, at levels comparable to that elicited by control BCG plus exogenous rIL-18. IFN-γ production by splenocytes was eliminated by addition of neutralizing anti-IL-18 antibody. Endogenous IL-12 played a favourable role whereas IL-10 played an adverse role in rBCG-mIL-18-induced IFN-γ production. Enhanced host antimycobacterial immunity was observed in mice infected with rBCG-mIL-18 which showed less splenic enlargement and reduced bacterial load compared to control mice infected with BCG. Further, splenocytes from rBCG-mIL-18-infected mice, in response to BCG antigen, displayed increased production of IFN-γ and GMCSF, decreased production of IL-10, elevated cellular proliferation and higher differentiation of IFN-γ-secreting cells. rBCG-mIL-18 also enhanced BCG-induced macrophage cytotoxicity against bladder cancer MBT-2 cells in a dose-dependent manner. Neutralizing all endogenous macrophage-derived cytokines tested (IL-12, IL-18 and TNF-α) as well as IFN-γ severely diminished the rBCG-mIL-18-induced macrophage cytolytic activity, indicating a critical role for these cytokines in this process. Cytokine analysis for supernatants of macrophage-BCG mixture cultures manifested higher levels of IFN-γ and TNF-α in rBCG-mIL-18 cultures than in control BCG cultures. Taken together, this rBCG-mIL-18 strain augments BCG's immunostimulatory property and may serve as a better agent for bladder cancer immunotherapy and antimycobacterial immunization.

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