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Infected dendritic cells are sufficient to mediate the adjuvant activity generated by Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus replicon particles

Tonkin, DR;Whitmore, A;Johnston, RE;Barro, M;

Replicon particles derived from Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEE) are infectious non-propagating particles which act as a safe and potent systemic, mucosal, and cellular adjuvant when delivered with antigen. VEE and VEE replicon particles (VRP) can target multiple cell types including dendritic cells (DCs). The role of these cell types in VRP adjuvant activity has not been previously evaluated, and for these studies we focused on the contribution of DCs to the response to VRP. By analysis of VRP targeting in the draining lymph node, we found that VRP induced rapid recruitment of TNF-secreting monocyte-derived inflammatory dendritic cells. VRP preferentially infected these inflammatory DCs as well as classical DCs and macrophages, with less efficient infection of other cell types. DC depletion suggested that the interaction of VRP with classical DCs was required for recruitment of inflammatory DCs, induction of high levels of many cytokines, and for stable transport of VRP to the draining lymph node. Additionally, in vitro-infected DCs enhanced antigen-specific responses by CD4 and CD8 T cells. By transfer of VRP-infected DCs into mice we showed that these DCs generated an inflammatory state in the draining lymph node similar to that achieved by VRP injection. Most importantly, VRP-infected DCs were sufficient to establish robust adjuvant activity in mice comparable to that produced by VRP injection. These findings indicate that VRP infect, recruit and activate both classical and inflammatory DCs, and those DCs become mediators of the VRP adjuvant activity.