Nucleic acid-based adjuvants have recently emerged as promising candidates for use in cancer vaccines to induce tumor-suppressing immune cells. In this study, we tested whether complexation of a nucleic acid-based adjuvant with chitosan (CTS) modulates immune adjuvant functions. As a nucleic acid-based adjuvant, we used toll-like receptor 3-recognizing RNA adjuvant (RA). Negatively charged RA formed nanoscale polyplexes with cationic CTS that possessed positive zeta potentials. RA/CTS polyplexes exerted dendritic cell (DC)-maturation effects without causing significant DC toxicity. This DC-maturation effect was CTS molecular weight dependent, with RA/CTS polyplexes with a CTS molecular weight of 340 kDa (RA/CTS 340K) producing the greatest effect. Subcutaneous injection of RA/CTS 340K polyplexes with the model tumor antigen ovalbumin exerted a preventive effect against challenge by ovalbumin-expressing tumor cells. It also provided greater inhibitory effects against a second challenge with the same tumor cells compared with other treatments. These protective effects of subcutaneous RA/CTS polyplex treatment were associated with the highest tumor antigen-specific humoral and cellular immune responses after tumor challenge, and with the greatest infiltration of CD4 helper T cell and CD8 T cell into the tumor tissues. Mice vaccinated with ovalbumin and RA/CTS polyplexes showed complete survival, even after repeated challenge with tumor cells. Our results suggest the potential of RA/CTS polyplexes as effective nanoadjuvants in the design of tumor vaccines and cancer immunotherapy.
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