TLR7/8 Agonist-Loaded Nanoparticles Augment NK Cell-Mediated Antibody-Based Cancer Immunotherapy

Hyunjoon Kim, Vidhi Khanna, Tamara A. Kucaba, Wenqiu Zhang, Drishti Sehgal, David M. Ferguson, Thomas S. Griffith, Jayanth Panyam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Activated natural killer (NK) cells can kill malignant tumor cells via granule exocytosis and secretion of IFN-γ, a key regulator of the TH1 response. Thus, mobilization of NK cells can augment cancer immunotherapy, particularly when mediated through antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC). Stimulation of toll-like receptor (TLR)7/8 activity in dendritic cells promotes pro-inflammatory cytokine secretion and costimulatory molecule upregulation, both of which can potentiate NK cell activation. However, currently available TLR7/8 agonists exhibit unfavorable pharmacokinetics, limiting their in vivo efficacy. To enable efficient delivery to antigen-presenting cells, we encapsulated a novel imidazoquinoline-based TLR7/8 agonist in pH-responsive polymeric NPs. Enhanced costimulatory molecule expression on dendritic cells and a stronger pro-inflammatory cytokine response were observed with a NP-encapsulated agonist, compared to that with the soluble form. Treatment with NP-encapsulated agonists resulted in stronger in vivo cytotoxicity and prolonged activation of NK cells compared to that with a soluble agonist. In addition, TLR7/8 agonist-loaded NPs potentiated stronger NK cell degranulation, which resulted in enhanced in vitro and in vivo ADCC mediated by the epidermal growth factor receptor-targeting antibody cetuximab. TLR7/8 agonist-loaded NP treatment significantly enhanced the antitumor efficacy of cetuximab and an anti-HER2/neu antibody in mouse tumor models. Collectively, our data show that a pH-responsive NP-encapsulating TLR7/8 agonist could be used as a potent immunostimulatory adjuvant for antibody-based cancer immunotherapy by promoting NK cell activation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2109-2124
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular pharmaceutics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the Grant in aid program, University of Minnesota (J.P.), GAP award (J.P.), Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota (T.S.G.), the Prostate and Urological Cancer Translational Working Group (T.S.G.), and the Randy Shaver Cancer Research & Community Fund (T.S.G., D.M.F.)

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2020 American Chemical Society.


  • ADCC
  • NK cell
  • TLR7/8 agonist
  • cancer immunotherapy
  • nanomedicine


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