Background & Aims: Ceramide, a sphingolipid metabolite, affects T-cell signaling, induces apoptosis of cancer cells, and slows tumor growth in mice. However, it has not been used as a chemotherapeutic agent because of its cell impermeability and precipitation in aqueous solution. We developed a nanoliposome-loaded C6-ceremide (LipC6) to overcome this limitation and investigated its effects in mice with liver tumors. Methods: Immune competent C57BL/6 mice received intraperitoneal injections of carbon tetrachloride and intra-splenic injections of oncogenic hepatocytes. As a result, tumors resembling human hepatocellular carcinomas developed in a fibrotic liver setting. After tumors formed, mice were given an injection of LipC6 or vehicle via tail vein every other day for 2 weeks. This was followed by administration, also via tail vein, of tumor antigen-specific (TAS) CD8+ T cells isolated from the spleens of line 416 mice, and subsequent immunization by intraperitoneal injection of tumor antigen-expressing B6/WT-19 cells. Tumor growth was monitored with magnetic resonance imaging. Tumor apoptosis, proliferation, and AKT expression were analyzed using immunohistochemistry and immunoblots. Cytokine production, phenotype, and function of TAS CD8+ T cells and tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) were studied with flow cytometry, real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and ELISA. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) in TAMs and bone marrow-derived macrophages, induced by colony stimulating factor 2 (GMCSF or CSF2) or colony stimulating factor 1 (MCSF or CSF1), were detected using a luminescent assay. Results: Injection of LipC6 slowed tumor growth by reducing tumor cell proliferation and phosphorylation of AKT, and increasing tumor cell apoptosis, compared with vehicle. Tumors grew more slowly in mice given the combination of LipC6 injection and TAS CD8+ T cells followed by immunization compared with mice given vehicle, LipC6, the T cells, or immunization alone. LipC6 injection also reduced numbers of TAMs and their production of ROS. LipC6 induced TAMs to differentiate into an M1 phenotype, which reduced immune suppression and increased activity of CD8+ T cells. These results were validated by experiments with bone marrow-derived macrophages induced by GMCSF or MCSF. Conclusions: In mice with liver tumors, injection of LipC6 reduces the number of TAMs and the ability of TAMs to suppress the anti-tumor immune response. LipC6 also increases the anti-tumor effects of TAS CD8+ T cells. LipC6 might therefore increase the efficacy of immune therapy in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma.
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