In vitro evaluation of immune responses to bacterial hydrogels for the development of living therapeutic materials

In living therapeutic materials (LTMs), organisms genetically programmed to produce and deliver drugs are encapsulated in porous matrices acting as physical barriers between the therapeutic organisms and the host cells. LTMs consisting of engineered E. coli encapsulated in Pluronic F127-based hydrogels have been frequently used in LTM designs but their immunogenicity has not been tested. In this study, we investigate the response of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) exposed to this bacteria/hydrogel combination. The release of inflammation-related cytokines and cytotoxic proteins and the subsets of natural killer cells and T cells were examined. Encapsulation of the bacteria in hydrogels considerably lowers their immunogenicity. ClearColi, an endotoxin-free variant of E. coli, did not polarize NK cells into the more cytolytic CD16dim subset as E. coli. Our results demonstrate that ClearColi-encapsulated hydrogels generate low immunogenic response and are suitable candidates for the development of LTMs for in vivo testing to assess a potential clinical use. Nevertheless, we observed a stronger immune response (elevated levels of IFNγ, IL-6 and cytotoxic proteins) in pro-inflammatory PBMCs characterized by a high spontaneous release of IL-2. This highlights the need to identify recipients who have a higher likelihood of experiencing undesired immune responses to LTMs with IL-2 serving as a potential predictive marker. Additionally, including anti-inflammatory measures in living therapeutic material designs could be beneficial for such recipients.