Flt-3 ligand as adjuvant for DNA vaccination augments immune responses but does not skew TH1/TH2 polarization

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Since transfection of dendritic cells (DC) plays a key role in DNA vaccination, in vivo expansion of DC might be a tool to increase vaccine efficacy. We asked whether Fms-like tyrosine kinase-3 ligand (Flt-3L), a growth factor for DC, can be used as an adjuvant for DNA vaccination. Beta-galactosidase (β-gal) was used as a model antigen in C57BL/6 mice. Mice were immunized i.m. with DNA coding for β-gal with or without additional injection of Flt-3L. In both cases, antigen-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cells were detectable after vaccination. Compared with DNA alone, additional administration of Flt-3L led to a significant increase in the antigen-specific proliferative response. However, increased cytotoxicity by T cells was not observed. The cytokines secreted by splenocytes of immunized mice upon in vitro stimulation with antigen had a TH2 profile. Humoral responses against β-gal preferentially consisted of IgG1 antibodies. Analysis of DC from Flt-3L-treated mice revealed an immature phenotype with low or absent expression levels of CD80, CD86 and CD40. We conclude that Flt-3L does not generally skew immune responses towards a TH1 type. More likely, factors determined by the antigen and/or the vaccination procedure itself are crucial for the resulting type of immune response. Flt-3L - under circumstances such as the one we have investigated - can also lead to suppression of TH1 T cell immunity, possibly by expansion of immature/unactivated DC.

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