Purpose: The NLRP3 inflammasome activation has been proposed as a common mechanism for some adjuvants to boost the immune system, and cationic liposomes were reported to potentially activate the NLRP3 inflammasome. Herein, we questioned whether the NLRP3 inflammasome-activating cationic liposomes could promote antigen presentation and be applied as an immune adjuvant. In addition, we aimed to investigate the structure effect of lipid on triggering these immune responses. Materials and methods: A series of structurally similar lipids, consisting of arginine (Arg) head group and varied lengths of alkyl chains or spacers in between were used to prepare cationic liposomes. Lipopolysaccharide-primed human or murine macrophages or phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate-primed THP-1 cells were treated with these liposomes, and interleukin (IL)-1β secretion was measured to quantify the NLRP3 inflammasome activation. Lysosome rupture was examined in THP-1 cells by the fluorescence loss of acridine orange, a lysosome dye. Further, chicken ovalbumin (OVA) was loaded on the liposome surface and applied to murine bone marrow-derived dendritic cells (BMDCs), which activate OT-I and OT-II lymphocytes upon major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I-and class II-mediated antigen presentation, respectively. OT-I and OT-II cell division and IL-2 secretion were measured to evaluate the antigen presentation efficiency. The expressions of MHC molecules and co-stimulatory molecules ie, CD80, CD86, and CD40 on BMDCs were investigated by flow cytometry. Results: All the liposomes showed size distributions of 80–200 nm and zeta potentials of around 50 mV. A3C14 liposomes, consisting of Arg-C3-Glu2C14 lipids induced the most potent lysosome rupture and NLRP3 inflammasome activation. OVA-A3C14 also exhibited the most potent MHC class I-and class II-mediated antigen presentation in BMDCs without interfering MHC and co-stimulatory molecules. Conclusion: The hydrophobic moieties of arginine-based liposomes are crucial in stimulating innate immune cells. A3C14 liposomes were non-immunogenic but strongly activated innate immune cells and promoted antigen presentation, and therefore can be applied as immune adjuvants.
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