Optimized administration of hetIL-15 expands lymphocytes and minimizes toxicity in rhesus macaques

Cristina Bergamaschi, Dionysios C. Watson, Antonio Valentin, Jenifer Bear, Cody J. Peer, William D. Figg, Barbara K. Felber, George N. Pavlakis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The common γ-chain cytokine interleukin-15 (IL-15) plays a significant role in regulating innate and adaptive lymphocyte homeostasis and can stimulate anti-tumor activity of leukocytes. We have previously shown that the circulating IL-15 in the plasma is the heterodimeric form (hetIL-15), produced upon co-expression of IL-15 and IL-15 Receptor alpha (IL-15Rα) polypeptides in the same cell, heterodimerization of the two chains and secretion. We investigated the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic profile and toxicity of purified human hetIL-15 cytokine upon injection in rhesus macaques. We compared the effects of repeated hetIL-15 administration during a two-week dosing cycle, using different subcutaneous dosing schemata, i.e. fixed doses of 0.5, 5 and 50 µg/kg or a doubling step-dose scheme ranging from 2 to 64 µg/kg. Following a fixed-dose regimen, dose-dependent peak plasma IL-15 levels decreased significantly between the first and last injection. The trough plasma IL-15 levels measured at 48 h after injections were significantly higher after the first dose, compared to subsequent doses. In contrast, following the step-dose regimen, the systemic exposure increased by more than 1 log between the first injection given at 2 µg/kg and the last injection given at 64 µg/kg, and the trough levels were comparable after each injection. Blood lymphocyte cell count, proliferation, and plasma IL-18 levels peaked at day 8 when hetIL-15 was provided at fixed doses, and at the end of the cycle following a step-dose regimen, suggesting that sustained expansion of target cells requires increasing doses of cytokine. Macaques treated with a 50 µg/kg dose showed moderate and transient toxicity, including fever, signs of capillary leak syndrome and renal dysfunction. In contrast, these effects were mild or absent using the step-dose regimen. The results provide a new method of optimal administration of this homeostatic cytokine and may have applications for the delivery of other cytokines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-224
Number of pages12
StatePublished - Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Homeostatic cytokine
  • IL-15
  • IL-15 Receptor Alpha
  • Lymphocytes
  • Pharmacokinetics


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