Recent advances in the development of protein-based vaccines have expanded the opportunities for preventing and treating both infectious diseases as well as cancer. However, the development of readily and efficient antigen delivery systems capable of stimulating strong cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) responses remains a challenge. With the attempt to closely mimic the properties of viruses in terms of their size and molecular organization, we constructed RNA (which is a ligand for Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7) and TLR8) and antigen-loaded nanoparticles resembling the structural organization of viruses. Cationic polymers containing either azide or bicyclo[6.1.0]nonyne (BCN) groups were synthesized as electrostatic glue that binds negatively charged single stranded RNA (PolyU) to form a self-crosslinked polyplex core. An azide-modified model antigen (ovalbumin, OVA) and a BCN-modified mannosylated or galactosylated polymer were sequentially conjugated to the RNA core via disulfide bonds using copper free click chemistry to form the shell of the polyplexes. The generated reducible virus mimicking particles (VMPs) with a diameter of 200 nm and negatively surface charge (−14 mV) were colloidally stable in physiological conditions. The immunogenicity of these VMP vaccines was evaluated both in vitro and in vivo. The surface mannosylated VMPs (VMP-Man) showed 5 times higher cellular uptake by bone marrow derived DCs (BMDCs) compared to galactosylated VMP (VMP-Gal) counterpart. Moreover, VMP-Man efficiently activated DCs and greatly facilitated MHC I Ag presentation in vitro. Vaccination of mice with VMP-Man elicited strong OVA-specific CTL responses as well as humoral immune responses. These results demonstrate that the modular core-shell polymeric nanoparticles described in this paper are superior in inducing strong and durable immune responses compared to adjuvanted protein subunit vaccines and offer therefore a flexible platform for personalized vaccines.
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