The mechanisms by which in vivo electroporation (EP) improves the potency of i.m. DNA vaccination were characterized by using the hepatitis C virus nonstructural (NS) 3/4A gene. Following a standard i.m. injection of DNA with or without in vivo EP, plasmid levels peaked immediately at the site of injection and decreased by 4 logs the first week. In vivo EP did not promote plasmid persistence and, depending on the dose, the plasmid was cleared or almost cleared after 60 days. In vivo imaging and immunohistochemistry revealed that protein expression was restricted to the injection site despite the detection of significant levels of plasmid in adjacent muscle groups.

In vivo EP increased and prolonged NS3/4A protein expression levels as well as an increased infiltration of CD3+ T cells at the injection site. These factors most likely additively contributed to the enhanced and broadened priming of NS3/4A-specific Abs, CD4+ T cells, CD8+ T cells, and gamma-IFN production. The primed CD8+ responses were functional in vivo, resulting in elimination of hepatitis C virus NS3/4A-expressing liver cells in transiently transgenic mice. Collectively, the enhanced protein expression and inflammation at the injection site following in vivo EP contributed to the priming of in vivo functional immune responses. These localized effects most likely help to insure that the strength and duration of the responses are maintained when the vaccine is tested in larger animals, including rabbits and humans. Thus, the combined effects mediated by in vivo EP serves as a potent adjuvant for the NS3/4A-based DNA vaccine.

Ahlén G, Söderholm J, Tjelle T, Kjeken R, Frelin L, Höglund U, Blomberg P, Fons M, Mathiesen I, Sällberg M. J Immunol. 2007 Oct 1;179(7):4741-53.