Infoscience

Thesis

Exploiting immunofunctional nanoparticles as vaccines and synthetic pathogens

The emergence of recombinant DNA technology has shifted research towards developing subunit vaccines, which use protein or peptide antigens instead of live/attenuated pathogens. Recent research has also shown that the best way to get sustained immunity is to deliver an antigen directly to antigen-presenting cells (APCs), specifically dendritic cells (DCs). However there are two difficulties to overcome in targeting DCs for use in subunit vaccines: (1) DCs are present in a low concentration in peripheral tissue (where typical vaccines are delivered) compared to secondary lymphoid organs such as lymph nodes. Thus delivering antigen to DCs in lymph nodes offers a powerful alternative for vaccine technology. (2) Activating DCs requires co-delivering an adjuvant also sometimes known as a molecular "danger signal" which matures DCs and initiates the subsequent adaptive immune response. Adjuvants are needed since most protein and peptide antigens are insufficiently immunogenic. Current danger signals being explored in experimental vaccine formulations mimic bacterial components (e.g., lipopolysaccharide (LPS), unmethylated CpG DNA) and often signal through a class of pattern recognition receptors knows as Toll-like receptors (TLRs), however limitations exist in that these often cause toxic side effects by inducing high levels pro-inflammatory cytokines. To address the need to target DCs, we used a nanoparticle delivery approach. We investigated the delivery of 20, 45, and 100 nm diameter poly(ethylene glycol)-stabilized poly(propylene sulfide) (PPS) nanoparticles to DCs in the lymph nodes. These nanoparticles consisted of a cross-linked rubbery core of PPS surrounded by a hydrophilic corona of poly(ethylene glycol). The PPS domain is capable of carrying hydrophobic drugs and degrades within oxidative environments. 20 nm particles were most readily taken up into lymphatics following interstitial injection, while both 20 and 45 nm nanoparticles showed significant retention in lymph nodes, displaying a consistent and strong presence at 24, 72, 96 and 120 h post-injection. Nanoparticles were internalized by up to 40-50% of lymph node DCs (and APCs) without the use of a targeting ligand, and the site of internalization was in the lymph nodes rather than at the injection site. Finally, an increase in nanoparticle-containing DCs (and other APCs) was seen at 96 h vs. 24 h, suggesting an infiltration of these cells to lymph nodes. Thus, PPS nanoparticles of 20-45 nm showed potential for vaccine delivery specifically targeting DCs in lymph nodes. Next we exploited our nanoparticle technology as a vaccine platform. We engineered antigen-bearing nanoparticle vaccines with two novel features: lymph node-targeting and in situ complement activation. Following intradermal injection, ultra-small nanoparticles (25 nm) were readily transported by interstitial flows into lymphatic capillaries, which leads to their accumulation in lymph nodes resident DCs. We further designed the nanoparticle surface chemistry to activate the complement cascade, thus spontaneously generating a danger signal in situ for DC activation. With ovalbumin as a model antigen conjugated to the nanoparticles, we demonstrated humoral and cellular immunity in mice. Finally we exploited nanoparticles as "synthetic pathogens" to isolate the effect of free surface thiols on complement activation and the subsequent immunological response induced. We found that surfaces with both hydroxyl and thiol groups activated complement to significantly higher levels than hydroxl groups alone. We then demonstrated that nanoparticles that induced thiol-associated complement activation were potent danger signals that were able to mature dendritic cells to express high levels of costimulatory molecules and the Th1 promoting cytokine interuleukin-12. Moreover, this dendritic cell maturation was dependent on a Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) signaling pathway and independent of the adaptor protein myeloid differentiation protein 88 (MyD88). Thus we uncover a potential direct link between complement and TLR4 signaling that is dependent on the specific activation of complement by thiol-expressing surfaces. In conclusion, this thesis develops a novel vaccine methodology, which is at the interface of nanotechnology and biotechnology, by harnessing lymphatic transport to target DCs and complement activation to activate adaptive immunity; we demonstrated an elegant vaccine technology platform for applications that include global health. Finally we exploit our nanoparticles as synthetic pathogens to discover fundamental mechanisms connecting the complement system and TLR signaling.

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