Journal of virology 2017 10 1391(21) pii 10.1128/JVI.01230-17
Retrovirus-derived virus-like particles (VLPs) are particularly interesting vaccine platforms, as they trigger efficient humoral and cellular immune responses and can be used to display heterologous antigens. In this study, we characterized the intrinsic immunogenicity of VLPs and investigated their possible adjuvantization by incorporation of Toll-like receptor (TLR) ligands. We designed a noncoding single-stranded RNA (ncRNA) that could be encapsidated by VLPs and induce TLR7/8 signaling. We found that VLPs efficiently induce in vitro dendritic cell activation, which can be improved by ncRNA encapsidation (ncRNAVLPs). Transcriptome studies of dendritic cells harvested from the spleens of immunized mice identified antigen presentation and immune activation as the main gene expression signatures induced by VLPs, while TLR signaling and Th1 signatures characterize ncRNAVLPs. In vivo and compared with standard VLPs, ncRNAVLPs promoted Th1 responses and improved CD8(+) T cell proliferation in a MyD88-dependent manner. In an HIV vaccine mouse model, HIV-pseudotyped ncRNAVLPs elicited stronger antigen-specific cellular and humoral responses than VLPs. Altogether, our findings provide molecular evidence for a strong vaccine potential of retrovirus-derived VLPs that can be further improved by harnessing TLR-mediated immune activation.IMPORTANCE We previously reported that DNA vaccines encoding antigens displayed in/on retroviral VLPs are more efficient than standard DNA vaccines at inducing cellular and humoral immune responses. We aimed to decipher the mechanisms and investigated the VLPs’ immunogenicity independently of DNA vaccination. We show that VLPs have the ability to activate antigen-presenting cells directly, thus confirming their intrinsic immunostimulatory properties and their potential to be used as an antigenic platform. Notably, this immunogenicity can be further improved and/or oriented by the incorporation into VLPs of ncRNA, which provides further TLR-mediated activation and Th1-type CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cell response orientation. Our results highlight the versatility of retrovirus-derived VLP design and the value of using ncRNA as an intrinsic vaccine adjuvant.