Many cancer immunotherapies require the strong activation of the T-cell mediated adaptive immune response to elicit their full anti-tumor potential. Antigen processing and presentation is a complex, multistep process that can be significantly enhanced via antigen modification, leading to better antigen-specific immune responses. Using mRNA, we can express exogenous antigens inside the cell and facilitate the subcellular localization of these antigens to enhance antigen processing and presentation. In this work, we introduced endolysosomal trafficking domains from CD1d molecules to drive subcellular localization of antigenic proteins to the late endosomes (LE) to enhance class I and class II antigen loading. CD1d are molecules that naturally traffic between the membrane and the late endosomes, where antigens are processed and loaded to both class II and class I molecules in a TAP-independent manner. We compared the immunogenicity of a novel endolysosomal trafficking domain, human CD1d, coupled to a chimeric HPV16 E6 and E7 (HPV16E6E7-hCD1d) antigen to antigen designs intended to be either a) secreted (Sec-HPV16E6E7), b) retained in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) by an ER retention signal KDEL (HPV16E6E7-KDEL) or c) unmodified antigen sequence (HPV16E6E7). To ensure intracellular translation and expression, all antigens were encoded and delivered as mRNAs. The immunogenicity of each antigen design was assessed in HPV16 positive cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) donor derived PBMCs and healthy controls. Using confocal microscopy, we observed that the hCD1d trafficking domain directed the translated E6E7 protein into late endosomes, which was not observed for any of the other antigen designs. Importantly, antigen localization to late endosomes resulted in significantly improved immunogenicity in vitro as well as in vivo. We observed a consistent increase in numbers of activated antigen-specific T cells across multiple CIN donor PBMCs treated with HPV16E6E7-hCD1d compared to the other 3 designs, as measured by Interferon gamma secretion, surface marker expression, and T-cell proliferation. To assess the generalizability of this approach, we also compared immunogenicity in human donor PBMCs using the human cytomegalovirus antigen pp65, and observed similar results. Lastly, the immunogenicity of each antigen design was tested in vivo by intramuscular injection of nanoparticle formulated mRNAs in C56/Bl6 mice, and inclusion of the murine analogue (mCD1d) resulted in significantly increased generation of HPV16-specific T cell responses. Based on these findings, we are developing a novel mRNA-based cancer therapeutic that includes the addition of hCD1d trafficking domain in the HPV16-specific antigen component.

Citation Format: Weiqun Liu, Daniel Fernandez, Colin J. McKinlay, Daniel O. Frimannsson, Meredith L. Leong, W. Martin Kast, Samuel Deutsch, Ole Audun W. Haabeth. Modification of mRNA-encoded HPV16 antigens to include endolysosomal trafficking domains drives cross-presentation and results in superior in vivo and ex vivo antigen-specific responses [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2023; Part 1 (Regular and Invited Abstracts); 2023 Apr 14-19; Orlando, FL. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2023;83(7_Suppl):Abstract nr 690.