Stimulation of immune systems by conjugated polymers and their potential as an alternative vaccine adjuvant†
Recently, conjugated polymers have been widely explored in the field of nanomedicine. Careful evaluations of their biological effects are thus urgently needed. Hereby, we systematically evaluated the biological effects of different types of conjugated polymers on macrophages and dendritic cells (DCs), which play critical roles in the innate and adaptive immune systems, respectively. While naked poly-(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene):poly(4-styrenesulfonate) (PEDOT:PSS) exhibits a high level of cytotoxicity, polyethylene glycol (PEG) modified PEDOT:PSS (PEDOT:PSS-PEG) shows greatly reduced toxicity to various types of cells. To our surprise, PEGylation of PEDOT:PSS could obviously enhance the cellular uptake of these nanoparticles, leading to subsequent immune stimulations of both macrophages and DCs. In contrast, another type of conjugated polymer, polypyrrole (PPy), is found to be an inert material with neither significant cytotoxicity nor noticeable immune-stimulation activity. Interestingly, utilizing ovalbumin (OVA) as a model antigen, it is further uncovered in our ex vivo experiment that PEDOT:PSS-PEG may serve as an adjuvant to greatly enhance the immunogenicity of OVA upon simple mixing. Our study on the one hand suggests the promise of developing novel nano-adjuvants based on conjugated polymers, and on the other hand highlights the importance of careful evaluations of the impacts of any new nanomaterials developed for nanomedicine on the immune systems.