Research Papers: Immunology:

Identification of IFN-γ-producing T cells as the main mediators of the side effects associated to mouse interleukin-15 sustained exposure

Marianna Di Scala _, Irene Gil-Fariña, Cristina Olagüe, Africa Vales, Luciano Sobrevals, Puri Fortes, David Corbacho and Gloria González-Aseguinolaza

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:49008-49026. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.10264

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Marianna Di Scala1, Irene Gil-Fariña1,3, Cristina Olagüe1, Africa Vales1, Luciano Sobrevals1, Puri Fortes1, David Corbacho2 and Gloria González-Aseguinolaza1

1 Gene Therapy and Regulation of Gene Expression Program, Center for Applied Medical Research (CIMA), Pamplona, Spain

2 Imaging Unit and Cancer Imaging Laboratory, Center for Applied Medical Research (CIMA), University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain

3 Department of Translational Oncology, National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) and German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Heidelberg, Germany

Correspondence to:

Marianna Di Scala, email:

Gloria González-Aseguinolaza, email:

Keywords: interleukin-15, side effects, interferon-γ, T cells, genetic transfer, Immunology and Microbiology Section, Immune response, Immunity

Received: September 27, 2015 Accepted: June 09, 2016 Published: June 23, 2016


Interleukin-15 (IL-15) is a cell growth-factor that regulates lymphocyte function and homeostasis. Its strong immunostimulatory activity coupled with an apparent lack of toxicity makes IL-15 an exciting candidate for cancer therapy, somehow limited by its short half-life in circulation. To increase IL-15 bioavailability we constructed a recombinant adeno-associated vector expressing murine IL-15 (AAV-mIL15) in the liver. Mice injected with AAV-mIL15 showed sustained and vector dose-dependent levels of IL-15/IL-15Rα complexes in serum, production of IFN-γ and activation of CD8+ T-cells and macrophages. The antitumoral efficacy of AAV-mIL15 was tested in a mouse model of metastatic colorectal cancer established by injection of MC38 cells. AAV-mIL15 treatment slightly inhibits MC38 tumor-growth and significantly increases the survival of mice. However, mIL-15 sustained expression was associated with development of side effects like hepatosplenomegaly, liver damage and the development of haematological stress, which results in the expansion of hematopoietic precursors in the bone marrow. To elucidate the mechanism, we treated IFN-γ receptor-, RAG1-, CD1d- and µMT-deficient mice and performed adoptive transfer of bone marrow cells from WT mice to RAG1-defcient mice. We demonstrated that the side effects of murine IL-15 administration were mainly mediated by IFN-γ-producing T-cells.

Conclusion: IL-15 induces the activation and survival of effector immune cells that are necessary for its antitumoral activity; but, long-term exposure to IL-15 is associated with the development of important side effects mainly mediated by IFN-γ-producing T-cells. Strategies to modulate T-cell activation should be combined with IL-15 administration to reduce secondary adverse events while maintaining its antitumoral effect.

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