Toll-like receptor agonist imiquimod facilitates antigen-specific CD8+ T-cell accumulation in the genital tract leading to tumor control through IFNγ

Ruey Shyang Soong, Liwen Song, Janson Trieu, Jayne Knoff, Liangmei He, Ya Chea Tsai, Warner Huh, Yung Nien Chang, Wen Fang Cheng, Richard B.S. Roden, T. C. Wu, Cornelia L. Trimble, Chien Fu Hung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Purpose: Imiquimod is a Toll-like receptor 7 agonist used topically to treat external genital warts and basal cell carcinoma. We examined the combination of topical imiquimod with intramuscular administration of CRT/E7, a therapeutic human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine comprised of a naked DNA vector expressing calreticulin fused to HPV16 E7. Experimental Design: Using an orthotopic HPV16 E6/E7+ syngeneic tumor, TC-1, as a model of high-grade cervical/vaginal/vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia, we assessed if combining CRT/E7 vaccination with cervicovaginal deposition of imiquimod could result in synergistic activities promoting immune-mediated tumor clearance. Results: Imiquimod induced cervicovaginal accumulation of activated E7-specific CD8+ T cells elicited by CRT/E7 vaccination. Recruitment was not dependent upon the specificity of the activated CD8+ T cells, but was significantly reduced in mice lacking the IFNγ receptor. Intravaginal imiquimod deposition induced upregulation of CXCL9 and CXCL10 mRNA expression in the genital tract, which are produced in response to IFNγ receptor signaling and attract cells expressing their ligand, CXCR3. The T cells attracted by imiquimod to the cervicovaginal tract expressed CXCR3 as well as CD49a, an integrin involved in homing and retention of CD8+ T cells at mucosal sites. Our results indicate that intramuscular CRT/E7 vaccination in conjunction with intravaginal imiquimod deposition recruits antigen-specific CXCR3+ CD8+ T cells to the genital tract. Conclusions: Several therapeutic HPV vaccination clinical trials using a spectrum of DNA vaccines, including vaccination in concert with cervical imiquimod, are ongoing. Our study identifies a mechanism by which these strategies could provide therapeutic benefit. Our findings support accumulating evidence that manipulation of the tumor microenvironment can enhance the therapeutic efficacy of strategies that induce tumor-specific T cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5456-5467
Number of pages12
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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