Design and development of cationic liposomes as DNA vaccine adjuvants

  • Behfar Moghaddam

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Cationic liposomes have been extensively explored for their efficacy in delivering nucleic acids, by offering the ability to protect plasmid DNA against degradation,
promote gene expression and, in the case of DNA vaccines, induce both humoural and cellular immune responses. DNA vaccines may also offer advantages in terms of safety,
but they are less effective and need an adjuvant to enhance their immunogenicity. Therefore, cationic liposomes can be utilised as delivery systems and/or adjuvants for DNA vaccines to stimulate stronger immune responses. To explore the role of liposomal systems within plasmid DNA delivery, parameters such as the effect of lipid composition, method of liposome preparation and presence of electrolytes in the formulation were investigated in characterisation studies, in vitro
transfection studies and in vivo biodistribution and immunisation studies. Liposomes composed of 1,2-dioleoyl-sn-glycero 3-phosphoethanolamine (DOPE) in combination with 1,2-dioleoyl-3-trimethylammonium-propane (DOTAP) or 1,2-stearoyl-3-
trimethylammonium-propane (DSTAP) were prepared by the lipid hydration method and hydrated in aqueous media with or without presence of electrolytes. Whilst the in vitro transfection efficiency of all liposomes resulted to be higher than Lipofectin, DSTAP-based liposomes showed significantly higher transfection efficiency than
DOTAP-based formulations. Furthermore, upon intramuscular injection of liposomal
DNA vaccines, DSTAP-based liposomes showed a significantly stronger depot effect at
the injection site. This could explain the result of heterologous immunisation studies, which revealed DSTAP-based liposomal vaccines induce stronger immune responses compared to DOTAP-based formulations. Previous studies have shown that having more liposomally associated antigen at the injection site would lead to more drainage of them into the local lymph nodes. Consequently, this would lead to more antigens being presented to antigen presenting cells, which are circulating in lymph nodes, and this
would initiate a stronger immune response. Finally, in a comparative study, liposomes composed of dimethyldioctadecylammonium bromide (DDA) in combination with
DOPE or immunostimulatory molecule of trehalose 6,6-dibehenate (TDB) were
prepared and investigated in vitro and in vivo. Results showed that although DDA:TDB is not able to transfect the cells efficiently in vitro, this formulation induces stronger
immunity compared to DDA:DOPE due to the immunostimulatory effects of TDB. This study demonstrated, while the presence of electrolytes did not improve immune responses, small unilamellar vesicle (SUV) liposomes induced stronger humoural
immune responses compared to dehydration rehydration vesicle (DRV) liposomes. Moreover, lipid composition was shown to play a key role in in vitro and in vivo
behaviour of the formulations, as saturated cationic lipids provided stronger immune responses compared to unsaturated lipids. Finally, heterologous prime/boost
immunisation promoted significantly stronger immune responses compared to
homologous vaccination of DNA vaccines, however, a single immunisation of subunit
vaccine provoked comparable levels of immune response to the heterologous regimen,
suggesting more immune efficiency for subunit vaccines compared to DNA vaccines.
Date of Award8 May 2013
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorQinguo Zheng (Supervisor) & Yvonne Perrie (Supervisor)


  • lipoplex
  • gene delivery
  • transfection
  • depot effect
  • heterologous regimen

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