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Inhibition of mammary carcinoma development in HER-2/neu transgenic mice through induction of autoimmunity by xenogeneic DNA vaccination.

Plasmid DNA vectors encoding the full-length (VR1012/HER-2-FL) or only the extracellular and transmembrane domains (VR1012/HER-2-ECD-TM) of human (h) HER-2/neu proto-oncogene were used to vaccinate HER-2/neu transgenic mice (N202) engineered to overexpress the rat (r) neu proto-oncogene product (r-p185(neu)). Both the full-length and the deleted vaccines were significantly (P = 0.0001 and P = 0.06, respectively) more active than the empty vector (VR1012/EV) in preventing and delaying HER-2/neu-driven mammary carcinogenesis. A low-level intratumoral infiltrate of dendritic cells, macrophages, CD8 T cells and polymorphonuclear granulocytes in association with low-level cytokine production was observed, which was not detected in tumors from control mice. Morphologic analyses showed that vaccination with VR1012/HER-2-FL or ECD-TM also efficiently hampered the development of terminal ductal lobular units (TDLU). Analyses of sera from vaccinated mice revealed high titers of antihuman HER-2/neu antibodies, which correlated with the delayed time of tumor onset (P = 0.002). These antibodies did not cross-react with r-p185(neu). Nontransgenic mice treated with the vaccines produced autoreactive antibodies targeting mouse (m)-p185(neu) and showed impaired function of the lactating mammary gland and accelerated involution of the gland after weaning. Together, these data indicate that xenogeneic DNA immunization breaks tolerance against the endogenous m-p185(neu), impairing the development of mammary TDLU in which m-p185(neu) expression is concentrated. The reduction in the number of TDLU decreases the number of glandular structures available for r-p185(neu)-dependent mammary carcinogenesis, resulting in a significant inhibition of mammary carcinoma development.

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