Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy

, Volume 56, Issue 9, pp 1417–1428 | Cite as

Interleukin 21 therapy increases the density of tumor infiltrating CD8+ T cells and inhibits the growth of syngeneic tumors

  • Henrik Søndergaard
  • Klaus S. Frederiksen
  • Peter Thygesen
  • Elisabeth D. Galsgaard
  • Kresten Skak
  • Paul E. G. Kristjansen
  • Niels Ødum
  • Michael Kragh
Original Article


Interleukin (IL)-21 is a recently discovered cytokine in early clinical development, which has shown anti-tumor activity in various animal models. In the present study, we examine the anti-tumor activity of IL-21 protein therapy in two syngeneic tumor models and its effect on the density of tumor infiltrating T cells. We treated mice bearing established subcutaneous B16 melanomas or RenCa renal cell carcinomas with intraperitoneal (i.p.) or subcutaneous (s.c.) IL-21 protein therapy and subsequently scored the densities of tumor infiltrating CD4+ and CD8+ T cells by immunohistochemistry. Whereas both routes of IL-21 administration significantly inhibited growth of small, established RenCa and B16 tumors, only s.c. therapy significantly inhibited the growth of large, established tumors. We found a greater bioavailability and significant drainage of IL-21 to regional lymph nodes following s.c. administration, which could account for the apparent increase in anti-tumor activity. Specific depletion of CD8+ T cells with monoclonal antibodies completely abrogated the anti-tumor activity, whereas NK1.1+ cell depletion did not affect tumor growth. In accordance, both routes of IL-21 administration significantly increased the density of tumor infiltrating CD8+ T cells in both B16 and RenCa tumors; and in the RenCa model s.c. administration of IL-21 led to a significantly higher density of tumor infiltrating CD8+ T cells compared to i.p. administration. The densities of CD4+ T cells were unchanged following IL-21 treatments. Taken together, these data demonstrate that IL-21 protein has anti-tumor activity in established syngeneic tumors, and we show that IL-21 therapy markedly increases the density of tumor infiltrating CD8+ T cells.


Interleukin-21 Tumor infiltrating lymphocytes Cancer Melanoma Renal cell carcinoma 



Interleukin 21








Tumor infiltrating lymphocytes

NK cells

Natural killer cells


Cytotoxic T lymphocytes


Area of interest


Area under the curve


Wild type


Lymph node


Interferon-inducible protein 10


Monokine induced by interferon gamma


Interferon-inducible T cell alpha chemoattractant



We would like to thank Heidi Winther, Bodil Andreasen, Birte Jørgensen and Kirsten Meeske for technical assistance with the experiments, and Mark Smyth for valuable discussion of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henrik Søndergaard
    • 1
  • Klaus S. Frederiksen
    • 2
  • Peter Thygesen
    • 3
  • Elisabeth D. Galsgaard
    • 1
  • Kresten Skak
    • 1
  • Paul E. G. Kristjansen
    • 4
  • Niels Ødum
    • 5
  • Michael Kragh
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Cancer Pharmacology, Biopharmaceuticals Research UnitNovo Nordisk A/SMåløvDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Molecular Genetics, Biopharmaceuticals Research UnitNovo Nordisk A/SBagsværdDenmark
  3. 3.Department of Exploratory ADME, Biopharmaceuticals Research UnitNovo Nordisk A/SMåløvDenmark
  4. 4.Department of Development Projects 05Novo Nordisk A/SBagsværdDenmark
  5. 5.Department of Molecular Biology and Physiology and Department of Medical Microbiology and ImmunologyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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