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The induction of a potent T cell response is essential for successful tumor immunotherapy and protection against many infectious diseases. In the past few years, mRNA vaccines have emerged as potent immune activators and inducers of a robust T cell immune response. The recent approval of the Moderna and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines based on lipid nanoparticles (LNP) encapsulating antigen-encoding mRNA has revolutionized the field of vaccines. The advantages of LNPs are their ease of design and formulation resulting in potent, effective, and safe vaccines. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement with respect to LNP efficacy, for instance, by optimizing the lipid composition and tuning LNP for specific purposes. mRNA delivery is known to be strongly dependent on the lipid composition of LNPs and the efficiency is mainly determined by the ionizable lipids. Besides that, cholesterol and helper lipids also play important roles in mRNA transfection potency. Here, a panel of LNP formulations was studied by keeping the ionizable lipids constant, replacing cholesterol with β-sitosterol, and changing the fusogenic helper lipid DOPE content. We studied the ability of this LNP library to induce antigen presentation and T cell proliferation to identify superior LNP candidates eliciting potent T cell immune responses. We hypothesize that using β-sitosterol and increasing DOPE content would boost the mRNA transfection on immune cells and result in enhanced immune responses. Transfection of immortal immune cell lines and bone marrow dendritic cells (BMDCs) with LNPs was studied. Delivery of mRNA coding for the model antigen ovalbumin (OVA-mRNA) to BMDCs with a number of LNP formulations, resulted in a high level of activation, as evidenced by the upregulation of the co-stimulatory receptors (CD40 and CD86) and IL-12 in BMDCs. The enhancement of BMDC activation and T cell proliferation induced by the introduction of β-sitosterol and fusogenic DOPE lipids were cell dependent. Four LNP formulations (C12-200-cho-10%DOPE, C12-200-sito-10%DOPE, cKK-E12-cho-10%DOPE and cKK-E12-sito-30%DOPE) were identified that induced robust T cell proliferation and enhanced IFN-γ, TNF-α, IL-2 expression. These results demonstrate that T cell proliferation is strongly dependent on LNP composition and promising LNP-mRNA vaccine formulations were identified.


Ye Zeng, Oscar Escalona-Rayo, Renzo Knol, Alexander Kros, Bram Slütter. Lipid nanoparticle-based mRNA candidates elicit potent T cell responses. Biomaterials science. 2023 Jan 31;11(3):964-974

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PMID: 36537916

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