X-shaped DNA potentiates therapeutic efficacy in colitis-associated colon cancer through dual activation of TLR9 and inflammasomes
© The Koo et al.; licensee BioMed Central. 2015
Received: 16 February 2015
Accepted: 21 April 2015
Published: 15 May 2015
Immunotherapy has been extensively pursed as a promising strategy for the treatment of cancer. Pattern-recognition receptors (PRRs) play important roles in triggering activation of innate and adaptive immunity. Therefore, agents that stimulate PRRs could be useful for cancer immunotherapy. We developed two kinds of X-shaped double-stranded oligodeoxynucleotides (X-DNA), a single unit of X-DNA (XS-DNA) composed of four strands of DNA and a ligated X-DNA complex (XL-DNA) formed by crosslinking each XS-DNA to the other, and investigated if they had immunostimulatory activity and could be applied to anti-cancer immunotherapy.
Activation of MAPKs and NF-κB was determined by immunoblotting in bone marrow-derived primary dendritic cells (BMDCs). Immune cytokines and co-stimulatory molecules were measured by ELISA and flow cytometry analysis. Anti-cancer efficacy was examined in an azoxymethane/dextran sulfate sodium-induced colitis-associated colon cancer mouse model. Association of X-DNA and TLR9 was determined by co-immunoprecipitation followed by immunoblotting. The involvement of TLR9 and inflammasomes was determined using TLR9- or caspase-1-deficient BMDCs. Inflammasome activation was examined by degradation of pro-caspase-1 to caspase-1 and cleavage of pro-IL-1β to IL-1β in BMDCs.
XL-DNA and XS-DNA induced activation of MAPKs and NF-κB and production of immune cytokines and co-stimulatory molecules in BMDCs. BMDCs stimulated by XL-DNA induced differentiation of naïve CD4+ T cells to TH1 cells. Intravenous injection of XL-DNA into mice resulted in increased serum IFN-γ and IL-12 levels, showing in vivo efficacy of XL-DNA to activate TH1 cells and dendritic cells. XL-DNA greatly enhanced the therapeutic efficacy of doxorubicin, an anti-cancer drug, in colitis-associated colon cancer. XL-DNA directly associated with TLR9. In addition, immunostimulatory activities of X-DNA were abolished in TLR9-deficient dendritic cells. Furthermore, X-DNA induced caspase-1 degradation and IL-1β secretion in BMDCs, which were abolished in caspase-1-deficient cells.
X-DNA induced the activation of dendritic cells as shown by the expression of immune-cytokines and co-stimulatory molecules, resulting in the differentiation of TH1 cells, mediated through dual activation of TLR9 and inflammasomes. X-DNA represents a promising immune adjuvant that can enhance the therapeutic efficacy of anti-cancer drugs by activating PRRs.
Certain tumor cells, including lymphoma, skin, and cervical tumors, survive the host defense system by evading immune surveillance [1,2]. Cancer immunotherapy strengthens the host immune system to fight against cancer, making it a promising approach for cancer treatment. Pattern recognition receptors such as Toll-like receptors (TLRs) expressed on innate immune cells initiate immune responses by activating innate and adaptive immune cells through recognition of pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) derived from infectious bacteria and viruses . In addition to PAMPs, danger signals, namely damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs) derived from damaged cells and tissues, activate PRRs to trigger immune responses for proper repair processes [4,5]. In particular, PRRs respond to endogenous substances from tumor cells and stress ligands expressed on the surface of tumor cells, activating host immune responses as a protective defense mechanism against the developing tumor [6,7]. The expression of co-stimulatory molecules and immune cytokines in innate immune cells is critical to induce the activation of adaptive immune cells . Co-stimulatory molecules interact with CD28 that is constitutively expressed on the surface of naïve CD4 positive T cells, leading to T cell proliferation and the production of cytokines and adhesion molecules . IL-12 secreted by antigen presenting cells induces differentiation of naïve CD4 positive T cells (TH cells) to TH1 effector cells. TH1 cells enhance the cytolytic functions of cytotoxic T cells and natural killer cells (NK cells) . In addition, IFN-γ produced by TH1, cytotoxic T, and NK cells exerts antiviral, immune-regulatory, and anti-tumor properties . Therefore, activation of the innate and adaptive immune systems has become the focus of effective strategies for cancer immunotherapy.
Development of immunostimulatory DNA assemblies has increased the possibility for pharmaceutical and biomedical applications and drawn a great deal of attention for the development of cancer immunotherapy . CpG oligodeoxynucleotides (CpG ODN) have been actively explored for therapeutic purposes due to their immunostimulatory activity . CpG ODN is a short single-stranded synthetic DNA molecule that contains a cytosine triphosphate deoxynucleotide followed by a guanine triphosphate deoxynucleotide. CpG ODN activates TLR9, inducing the expression of immune cytokines and stimulating innate and adaptive immune responses . TLR9 is a type I transmembrane receptor localized on endosomes, thereby recognizing DNA with CpG motifs derived from phagocytized bacteria and viruses. Understanding of the TLR9 signal cascade has prompted the clinical development of TLR9 agonists to treat cancer as well as infectious diseases, asthma, and allergies . TLR9 agonists such as CpG ODN enhance antitumor T-cell responses when used as an adjuvant for anti-cancer therapy . There have been attempts to develop more efficient immunostimulatory DNA. Roberts et al. reported that longer DNA molecules are taken up more efficiently by cells than shorter ones . Immunostimulatory activity is enhanced by complexing CpG ODN into a Y-shaped form compared with single-stranded or double-stranded ODN . Furthermore, highly structured double-stranded DNA can be useful as a drug delivery system. For example, doxorubicin, an anti-cancer drug, can be intercalated into plasmid DNA and delivered to metastatic colonies of colon carcinoma cells in the mouse liver [17,18]. Thus, the development of newly designed DNA assemblies may extend potential pharmaceutical applications.
We previously described the development of X-shaped double-stranded oligodeoxynucleotides (X-DNA) for possible biomedical applications . A single unit of the X-DNA (XS-DNA) has an X-shaped structure composed of four strands of oligodeoxynucleotides. We also constructed a ligated X-DNA complex (XL-DNA) by crosslinking X-DNAs by introducing a complementary ACGT sequence at the end of each strand (Additional file 1: Figure S1) . We investigated whether XL-DNA and XS-DNA have immunostimulatory activity and attempted to find possible pharmaceutical applications for cancer immunotherapy. Both XS-DNA and XL-DNA induced the production of immune cytokines and co-stimulatory molecules in dendritic cells, and the XL-DNA was more potent. XL-DNA treatment of dendritic cells in culture and to mice via intravenous injection led to the differentiation of naïve CD4+ T cells to TH1 cells. Combination therapy with XL-DNA greatly enhanced the anti-cancer efficacy of doxorubicin in a mouse model of colitis-associated colon cancer. The immunostimulatory activity of XL-DNA was mediated through TLR9 and inflammasomes. The results indicate a promising role for X-DNA as an immune activator in cancer immunotherapy.
X-DNA induces the activation of bone marrow-derived primary dendritic cells
These results demonstrate that XL-DNA and XS-DNA stimulated immune activity in dendritic cells, inducing the expression of immune-cytokines and co-stimulatory molecules.
Activation of dendritic cells by X-DNA results in activation of a TH1 response
XL-DNA enhances the efficacy of anti-cancer drug therapy
Endocytosis of XL-DNA is required for its immunostimulatory activity
Immunostimulatory activity of XL-DNA is mediated through TLR9
To confirm that immune cell activation by XL-DNA was mediated through TLR9, we examined the activity of XL-DNA in dendritic cells isolated from TLR9-deficient mice. XL-DNA lost its ability to induce phosphorylation of MAPKs such as ERK, JNK, and p38 in addition to phosphorylation of IκBα in TLR9-deficient dendritic cells (Figure 7B). XL-DNA-induced production of cytokines IL-12 and TNF-α was abolished in TLR9-deficient dendritic cells at both the mRNA and protein levels (Figure 7C and D). R848, a TLR7 ligand, was used as a negative control and CpG1668, a synthetic ligand of TLR9, was used as a positive control (Figure 7B, C, and D). Similarly, XS-DNA-induced production of IL-12 and TNF-α was abolished in TLR9-deficient dendritic cells at both the mRNA and protein levels (Additional file 2: Figure S2A and B).
To confirm whether XL-DNA directly bound to TLR9, an in vitro binding assay was performed. Myc/His-tagged TLR9 was expressed in HEK293T cells (Figure 7E, left panel). The cell lysates were incubated with biotin-XL-DNA and immunoprecipitated with NA beads followed by immunoblotting to detect TLR9 co-precipitated with XL-DNA (Figure 7E, right panel). TLR9 was co-precipitated with XL-DNA in an XL-DNA dose-dependent manner (Figure 7E, right panel) showing the direct association of XL-DNA and TLR9.
These results show that XL-DNA associates with TLR9, thereby exerting immunostimulatory activities.
X-DNA activates a cytosolic inflammasome complex
LRRFIP1 has been suggested as another cytosolic nucleic acid sensor, and so we investigated whether X-DNA could activate LRRFIP1. As a gain-of-function study, HEK293T cells were first transfected with LRRFIP1-expressing plasmid together with IFN-β-promoter reporter gene, then transfected with XL-DNA or poly dA:dT as a positive control. Transfection with poly dA:dT induced IFN-β expression, as IFN-β-promoter-dependent luciferase expression was increased. However, transfection with XL-DNA did not increase IFN-β-promoter-dependent luciferase activity (Additional file 3: Figure S3).
These results show that XL-DNA and XS-DNA induce pro-caspase-1 degradation to caspase-1 and pro-IL-1β cleavage to IL-1β when introduced into the cytosol, suggesting that both are able to activate the cytosolic inflammasome complex.
Collectively, our results demonstrate that X-shaped DNAs have immunostimulatory activity resulting in the production of immune cytokines, including IL-12, TNF-α, and IL-1β, in dendritic cells, acting as a dual activator of TLR9 and the inflammasome complex. X-shaped DNA represents a promising immune adjuvant to enhance the therapeutic efficacy of anti-cancer drugs.
We found that X-shaped double-stranded oligonucleotides (X-DNA) induced the activation of MAPKs and NF-κB and the expression of immune cytokines and co-stimulatory molecules in BMDCs, culminating in elevated TH1 cells activity. XL-DNA forms a complex structure through the use of a complementary sequence at each strand that results in a self-ligated X-DNA complex. Ligated X-DNA (XL-DNA) was more potent than single unit X-DNA (XS-DNA). Although the recognition of DNA by TLR9 is generally assumed, we explicitly demonstrated that the immunostimulatory activity of X-DNA was mediated through TLR9 by both gain-of-function and loss-of-function studies. We first demonstrated that X-shaped DNA directly associates with TLR9. The involvement of TLR9 in X-DNA-mediated immunostimulatory activity was further confirmed with TLR9-knockout dendritic cells. Interestingly, our results revealed that intracellular transfection of X-DNA culminated in the activation of the inflammasome complex in a caspase-1-dependent manner. These indicate a novel aspect of X-shaped DNA as a dual activator for TLR9 and inflammasomes. It has been reported that inflammasome activation in dendritic cells is critical in anti-cancer chemotherapy by linking the innate and adaptive immune responses against dying tumor cells . This report showed that the lack of inflammasome components such as NLRP3 and caspase-1 results in failed activation of IFN-γ-producing CD8+ T cells, indicating that inflammasome activation makes anti-cancer chemotherapy against tumors more efficient. Therefore, the activation of inflammasomes by our X-DNA in dendritic cells offers an additional advantage for anti-cancer therapy compared with a single activator for TLR9.
We propose the possible therapeutic application of XL-DNA for anti-tumor immunotherapy, since combined therapy with XL-DNA enhanced the anti-tumor activity of doxorubicin in colitis-associated colon cancer progression. The anti-tumor activity of CpG-DNA has previously been shown in a mouse allograft model . However, to our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate the anti-tumor efficacy of XL-DNA using a more spontaneously developed cancer model. In the future study, it would be beneficial to examine the therapeutic efficacy of XL-DNA in the patient-derived tumor models for preclinical and clinical applications .
Cancer treatment may include radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. However, chemotherapy and radiation negatively affect normal cells. In particular, chemotherapy has dose-limiting toxic effects on cells of the immune system, which eventually leads to substantial morbidity and mortality in cancer patients . The cancer immunoediting hypothesis in developing tumors, allowing evasion of host immune surveillance, has been proposed . Cancer immunoediting processes consist of three distinct phases: elimination, equilibrium, and escape. Innate immune activity to block cancer progression disappears at the equilibrium phase and adaptive immune activity diminishes at the escape phase. Therefore, if immune activities can be up-regulated and maintained by immune adjuvants in cancer patients, cancer progression may be delayed. Combined therapeutic strategies designed to reactivate the patient’s own immune system to fight the tumor have been extensively pursued. As immune adjuvants for activation of innate and adaptive immune reactions, TLR agonists have come into the spotlight. A TLR9 agonist enhanced antitumor T-cell responses when used as an adjuvant for anti-cancer therapy . A TLR7/8 agonist may improve cancer immunotherapy by inducing the differentiation of myeloid-derived suppressor cells, which accumulate in cancer patients and suppress the host immune system, into macrophages and dendritic cells . In fact, several TLR agonists have been being developed as anti-cancer drugs in clinical trials. A TLR9 agonist of the CpG-ODN B type is being evaluated in clinical trials in patients with melanoma and lymphoma [25,26]. Our X-DNA effectively induced both innate and adaptive immune responses. X-DNA induced the activation of antigen presenting cells such as DCs to express IL-12 and co-stimulatory molecules and the differentiation of CD4+ T cells to TH1 cells to produce IFN-γ. The activation of TH1 cells by X-DNA was confirmed by both in vitro co-culture of CD4+ T cells and dendritic cells and in vivo injection into mice. Furthermore, inflammasomes were also activated by X-DNA to secrete IL-1β. These results suggest that X-DNA is an excellent immune adjuvant that can be used in combination therapy with anti-cancer drugs, reducing the required dosage of doxorubicin and thereby possibly alleviating side effects of anti-cancer drugs. Our results indicate a promising new candidate of an immune adjuvant for anti-cancer immunotherapy, especially for colon cancer.
XL-DNA and XS-DNA had immunostimulatory activity via the dual activation of TLR9 and inflammasomes in dendritic cells, leading to T cell activation. XL-DNA was effective as an immune adjuvant, enhancing the therapeutic efficacy of an anti-cancer drug in a colitis-associated colon cancer animal model.
Animals and cell culture
Animal care and the study protocols were carried out in accordance with the guidelines of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) of the Catholic University of Korea (permission # 2012-5-001). C57BL/6 and Balb/C mice were purchased from Orient Bio (Seoul, Korea) and were acclimated under specific pathogen-free conditions in an animal facility for at least a week before experiments. The mice were housed in a temperature (23 ± 3°C) and relative humidity (40-60%)-controlled room. Balb/C TLR9 knockout (KO) mice were obtained from Hyung-Joo Kwon (Hallym University, Gangwon-do, Korea). C57BL/6 caspase-1KO mice were purchased from the Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, ME, USA).
To prepare conventional dendritic cells (cDCs), bone marrow cells were isolated from mice and cultured in RPMI1640 medium containing 10% (v/v) heat-inactivated fetal bovine serum (Life Technologies; Grand Island, NY, USA), 50 μM of 2-mercaptoethanol, 100 units/ml of penicillin, 100 μg/ml of streptomycin, 2 mM of glutamine, and 3% J558L hybridoma cell culture supernatant containing granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) for 6 days. Non-adherent cells were used as dendritic cells (DCs) .
HEK293T cells (human embryonic kidney cells) were cultured in Dulbecco’s modified eagle medium supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum, 100 units/ml of penicillin, and 100 μg/ml of streptomycin. Cells were maintained at 37°C in a 5% CO2/air environment .
X-shape double-stranded oligodeoxynucleotides (X-DNA) were prepared as described previously . XL-DNA refers to X-DNA forming a ligated complex through self-ligation due to ACGT sequences at the end of the strands, while XS-DNA refers to X-DNA existing as a single module due to the lack of sticky ACGT sequences. Sequences of X-DNAs are shown in Additional file 1: Figure S1. ODN1668 was purchased from TIB MOLBIOL (Berlin, Germany). R848 was purchased from Enzo Life Sciences (Farmingdale, NY, USA). Poly dA:dT and dynasore were obtained from Sigma Aldrich (St. Louis, MO, USA). Bafilomycin A1 was purchased from EMD Millipore (Billerica, MA, USA). ATP was purchased from InvivoGen (San Diego, CA, USA). Ovalbumin (323-339) peptide was purchased from AnaSpec (San Jose, CA, USA).
Immunoblotting was performed using SDS-PAGE as previously described . Antibodies against phospho-ERK, phospho-JNK, phospho-p38, phospho-IκBα, ERK, JNK, p38, and actin were purchased from Cell Signaling Technology (Boston, MA, USA). Antibody against capase-1 was obtained from Santa Cruz Biotechnology (Dallas, TX, USA). Antibody against IL-1β was purchased from R&D Systems (Minneapolis, MN, USA)
Reverse transcription (RT) and quantitative PCR analysis
PCR was performed as previously described . Total RNAs were isolated with Welprep™ reagent (Jeil Biotechservices Inc., Daegu, Korea). RNAs were reverse-transcribed with ImProm-II™ Reverse Transcriptase (Promega, Madison, WI, USA) and amplified with IQ™ SYBR® Green Supermix (Bio-Rad, Hercules, CA, USA) using an IQ™5 (Bio-Rad) for quantitative real-time PCR. The primers were: Il-12, 5′-GAAGTTCAACATCAAGAGCAGTAG-3′ and 5′-AGGGAGAAGTAGGAATGGGG-3′; Tnf-α, 5′-AAAATTCGAGTGACAAGCCTGTAG-3′ and 5′-CCCTTGAAGAGAACCTGGGAGTAG-3′; Ifn-β, 5′-TCCAAGAAAGGACGAACATTCG-3′ and 5′-TGAGGACATCTCCCACGTCAA-3′; β-actin, 5′-TCATGAAGTGTGACGTTGACATCCGT-3′ and 5′-TTGCGGTGCACGATGGAGGGGCCGGA-3′. The specificity of the amplified PCR products was assessed by a melting curve analysis. Fold-induction of gene expression was calculated after mRNA levels of each target gene were normalized to β-actin levels in corresponding samples.
Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)
ELISA was performed as previously described . Concentrations of IL-12 p40 (eBioscience Inc., San Diego, CA, USA), TNF-α (R&D Systems), IFN-γ (eBioscience Inc.), and IL-1β (R&D Systems) in the culture supernatants were determined by ELISA according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Plates were read at 450 nm wavelength with a microplate reader (Molecular Devices, San Francisco, CA, USA). The concentration ranges of the standard curves were 19.5 to 20,000, 9.7 to 10,000, 31.25 to 4,000, and 31.25 to 2,000 pg/ml for IL-12 p40, TNF-α, IFN-γ, and IL-1β, respectively. Samples were properly diluted to be measured within the standard curve ranges.
Flow cytometric analysis
After BMDCs were treated with X-DNAs or CpG 1668 for 24 h, CD80 and CD86 surface molecules were stained with FITC-conjugated anti-mouse antibodies against CD80 and CD86 (BD Pharmingen, San Jose, CA, USA) for 3 h at 4°C. After washing with staining buffer (BD Pharmingen), cells were analyzed by FACSCanto flow cytometer (BD Biosciences, San Jose, CA, USA).
Assay for T cell activation by DCs
TH cells were isolated from lymph nodes of C57BL/6 mice using anti-mouse CD4 microbeads and MACS LS columns according to the manufacturer’s protocol (Miltenyi Biotec, Auburn, WA, USA). After BMDCs were stimulated with ovalbumin (323-339) (5 μg/ml) in the presence or absence of XL-DNA for 24 h, cells were co-cultured with TH cells for 5 days. The concentrations of cytokines in the culture supernatants were determined by ELISA.
In vivo immunostimulatory activity of XL-DNA
XL-DNA (20 nmol) or ODN1668 (20 nmol) was intraperitoneally injected into Balb/C mice. After 3 h, blood samples were obtained by eye bleeding and the concentrations of cytokines were determined by ELISA.
Animal model of colitis-associated colon cancer
A colitis-associated cancer model was induced as previously described with slight modifications . Colitis-associated cancer was induced by a single intraperitoneal injection of a mutagenic agent, azoxymethane (AOM, 10 mg/kg; Sigma-Aldrich) into Balb/C mice on day 1 followed by 2 cycles of 2% dextran sulfate sodium (DSS) in drinking water for 1 week and normal drinking water for 1 week. The mice were divided into six groups (n = 10-12/group) and intravenously injected with doxorubicin (1 or 2 mg/kg) with or without XL-DNA twice per week for 3 weeks. The mice were sacrificed and their colons were removed. The number and the size of polyps that were 3 mm or larger were determined from each mouse. For histological examination, colon tissues were infused with 4% paraformaldehyde and embedded in paraffin. Sections from these samples were stained with hematoxylin and eosin.
Transfection and luciferase assay
A NF-κB (2x)-luciferase reporter plasmid and pMSCV puro-mTLR9-Myc-expressing plasmid for luciferase assay were provided by Youme Kim (POSTECH, Pohang, Korea). LRRFIP1-expressing plasmid was provided by Xuetao Cao (Second Military Medical University, Shanghai, China). IFN-β-luciferase plasmid was provided by Shizuo Akira (Osaka University, Osaka, Japan). Transfection of plasmids and measurement of luciferase activity were as described previously .
Immunoprecipitation study for XL-DNA binding to TLR9
Immunoprecipitation was performed as previously described . HEK293T cells were transfected with the expression plasmid of pcDNA3.1-mTLR9-Myc/His. Cell lysates were incubated with biotinylated XL-DNA for 2 h and immunoprecipitated with NeutrAvidin(NA)-beads (Thermo Scientific, Rockford, IL, USA) for 4 h at 4°C on a rocker. Immune complexes were solubilized with Laemmli sample buffer after washing three times. The solubilized proteins were resolved on SDS-PAGE and immunoblotting was performed. Anti-Myc antibody was purchased from Cell Signaling Technology.
Data are expressed as mean ± SEM. Comparisons of data between groups were examined by one-way ANOVA followed by Tukey’s multiple range test (significant when p < 0.05).
We thank Min Young Choi, Sang Hyeon Yeon, Hye Eun Lee, and Jin Young Lee for their technical assistance. We thank Dr. Young-Sang Koh (Jeju National University, Jeju, Korea) for kindly providing J558L hybridoma cells for GM-CSF and Dr. Hyung-Joo Kwon (Hallym University, Gangwon-do, Korea) for providing TLR9KO mice. This study was supported by a grant from the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Korean government (Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning) (NRF-2014R1A2A1A11051234), and the 2013 Research Fund of the Catholic University of Korea.
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