Molecular biology techniques have given novel impetus to the immunotherapy of cancer because they have catalyzed the identification of several potential tumor antigens, and permitted the generation of vectors for the delivery of genetic material encoding these antigens. Vaccines can be defined “genetic” when the antigen they enclose is present as DNA or RNA. Microrganisms used as vectors can deliver the genetic information, but naked nucleic acids have also been shown to be effective immunogens thanks to built-in adjuvants that activate professional antigen presenting cells. Although gene-based cancer vaccines have been tested in mouse models and selected for pilot clinical trials, enthusiasm has somewhat waned due to an apparently major drawback of cancer vaccination tumor antigens are weak, and therefore fail to stimulate a sterilizing immune response in tumor-bearing patients. Mouse studies, however, have shown that cancer vaccines are extremely efficacious in establishing a state of active immunosurvellance against tumor growth. This review reconsiders the findings emerging from preclinical studies in the context of our current knowledge of the cellular and molecular bases of the immune responses to vaccines, in an attempt to approach critically the use of genetic vaccination for the treatment of cancer.
Keywords: Genetic Vaccination, Active Immunotherapy, immunosurvellance, histocompatibility, TAA coding, immune response, oncogenic, canarypox virus, poxiruses, virion packaging, MVA boosting
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