Combining toll-like receptor agonists with immune checkpoint blockade affects antitumor vaccine efficacy

May, 05, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles


T cell checkpoint receptors are expressed when T cells are activated, and modulation of the expression or signaling of these receptors can alter the function of T cells and their antitumor efficacy. We previously found that T cells activated with cognate antigen had increases in the expression of PD-1, and this was attenuated in the presence of multiple toll-like receptor (TLR) agonists, notably TLR3 plus TLR9. In the current report, we sought to investigate whether combining TLR agonists with immune checkpoint blockade can further augment vaccine-mediated T cell antitumor immunity in murine tumor models.


TLR agonists (TLR3 plus TLR9) and immune checkpoint inhibitors (antibodies targeting PD-1, CTLA-4, LAG-3, TIM-3 or VISTA) were combined and delivered with vaccines or vaccine-activated CD8+T cells to E.G7-OVA or MyC-CaP tumor-bearing mice. Tumors were assessed for growth and then collected and analyzed by flow cytometry.


Immunization of E.G7-OVA tumor-bearing mice with SIINFEKL peptide vaccine, coadministered with TLR agonists and αCTLA-4, demonstrated greater antitumor efficacy than immunization with TLR agonists or αCTLA-4 alone. Conversely, the antitumor efficacy was abrogated when vaccine and TLR agonists were combined with αPD-1. TLR agonists suppressed PD-1 expression on regulatory T cells (Tregs) and activated this population. Depletion of Tregs in tumor-bearing mice led to greater antitumor efficacy of this combination therapy, even in the presence of αPD-1. Combining vaccination with TLR agonists and αCTLA-4 or αLAG-3 showed greater antitumor than with combinations with αTIM-3 or αVISTA.


The combination of TLR agonists and αCTLA-4 or αLAG-3 can further improve the efficacy of a cancer vaccine, an effect not observed using αPD-1 due to activation of Tregs when αPD-1 was combined with TLR3 and TLR9 agonists. These data suggest that optimal combinations of TLR agonists and immune checkpoint blockade may improve the efficacy of human anticancer vaccines.

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