PloS one

Efficacy of imiquimod-based transcutaneous immunization using a nano-dispersed emulsion gel formulation.

PMID 25025233


Transcutaneous immunization (TCI) approaches utilize skin associated lymphatic tissues to elicit specific immune responses. In this context, the imidazoquinoline derivative imiquimod formulated in Aldara applied onto intact skin together with a cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) epitope induces potent CTL responses. However, the feasibility and efficacy of the commercial imiquimod formulation Aldara is limited by its physicochemical properties as well as its immunogenicity. To overcome these obstacles, we developed an imiquimod-containing emulsion gel (IMI-Gel) and characterized it in comparison to Aldara for rheological properties and in vitro mouse skin permeation in a Franz diffusion cell system. Imiquimod was readily released from Aldara, while IMI-Gel showed markedly decreased drug release. Nevertheless, comparing vaccination potency of Aldara or IMI-Gel-based TCI in C57BL/6 mice against the model cytotoxic T-lymphocyte epitope SIINFEKL, we found that IMI-Gel was equally effective in terms of the frequency of peptide-specific T-cells and in vivo cytolytic activity. Importantly, transcutaneous delivery of IMI-Gel for vaccination was clearly superior to the subcutaneous or oral route of administration. Finally, IMI-Gel based TCI was at least equally effective compared to Aldara-based TCI in rejection of established SIINFEKL-expressing E.G7 tumors in a therapeutic setup indicated by enhanced tumor rejection and survival. In summary, we developed a novel imiquimod formulation with feasible pharmaceutical properties and immunological efficacy that fosters the rational design of a next generation transcutaneous vaccination platform suitable for the treatment of cancer or persistent virus infections.