Oncolytic viruses, including vaccinia virus (VACV), are a promising alternative to classical mono-cancer treatment methods such as surgery, chemo- or radiotherapy. However, combined therapeutic modalities may be more effective than mono-therapies. In this study, we enhanced the effectiveness of oncolytic virotherapy by matrix metalloproteinase (MMP-9)-mediated degradation of proteins of the tumoral extracellular matrix (ECM), leading to increased viral distribution within the tumors.
For this study, the oncolytic vaccinia virus GLV-1h255, containing the mmp-9 gene, was constructed and used to treat PC-3 tumor-bearing mice, achieving an intra-tumoral over-expression of MMP-9. The intra-tumoral MMP-9 content was quantified by immunohistochemistry in tumor sections. Therapeutic efficacy of GLV-1h255 was evaluated by monitoring tumor growth kinetics and intra-tumoral virus titers. Microenvironmental changes mediated by the intra-tumoral MMP-9 over-expression were investigated by microscopic quantification of the collagen IV content, the blood vessel density (BVD) and the analysis of lymph node metastasis formation.
GLV-1h255-treatment of PC-3 tumors led to a significant over-expression of intra-tumoral MMP-9, accompanied by a marked decrease in collagen IV content in infected tumor areas, when compared to GLV-1h68-infected tumor areas. This led to considerably elevated virus titers in GLV-1h255 infected tumors, and to enhanced tumor regression. The analysis of the BVD, as well as the lumbar and renal lymph node volumes, revealed lower BVD and significantly smaller lymph nodes in both GLV-1h68- and GLV-1h255- injected mice compared to those injected with PBS, indicating that MMP-9 over-expression does not alter the metastasis-reducing effect of oncolytic VACV.
Taken together, these results indicate that a GLV-1h255-mediated intra-tumoral over-expression of MMP-9 leads to a degradation of collagen IV, facilitating intra-tumoral viral dissemination, and resulting in accelerated tumor regression. We propose that approaches which enhance the oncolytic effect by increasing the intra-tumoral viral load, may be an effective way to improve therapeutic outcome.