Helper cell-independent antitumor activity of potent CD8(+) T cell epitope peptide vaccines is dependent upon CD40L
Peptide vaccines derived from CD8(+) T-cell epitopes have shown variable efficacy in cancer patients. Thus, some peptide vaccines are capable of activating CD8(+) T-cell responses, even in the absence of CD4(+) T-cell epitopes or dendritic cell (DC)-activating adjuvants. However, the mechanisms underlying the clinical activity of these potent peptides are poorly understood. Using CT26 and ovalbumin-expressing B16 murine allograft tumor models, we found that the antitumor effect of helper cell-independent CD8 T-cell peptide vaccines is inhibited by the blockade of CD40 ligand (CD40L) in vivo. Furthermore, in vitro stimulation with antigenic peptides of cells derived from immunized mice induced the expression of CD40L on the surface of CD8(+) T cells and fostered DC maturation, an effect that was partially inhibited by CD40L-blocking antibodies. Interestingly, CD40L blockade also inhibited CD8(+) T-cell responses, even in the presence of fully mature DCs, suggesting a role for CD40L not only in promoting DC maturation but also in mediating CD8(+) T-cell co-stimulation. Importantly, these potent peptides share features with bona fide CD4 epitopes, since they foster responses against less immunogenic CD8(+) T-cell epitopes in a CD40L-dependent manner. The analysis of peptides used for the vaccination of cancer patients in clinical trials showed that these peptides also induce the expression of CD40L on the surface of CD8(+) T cells. Taken together, these results suggest that CD40L expression induced by potent CD8(+) T-cell epitopes can activate antitumor CD8(+) T-cell responses, potentially amplifying the immunological responses to less immunogenic CD8(+) T-cell epitopes and bypassing the requirement for CD4(+) helper T cells in vaccination protocols.