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This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) induced in (C57BL/6 × DBA/2) F1 (BDF1) mice by the injection of DBA/2 mouse spleen cells represents histopathological changes associated with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) and Sjogren's syndrome (SS), as indicated by glomerulonephritis, lymphocyte infiltration into the periportal area of the liver and salivary glands. We determined the therapeutic effect of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) gene transfection on lupus using this chronic GVHD model. Chronic GVHD mice were injected in the gluteal muscle with either HVJ liposomes containing 8 μg of the human HGF expression vector (HGF-HVJ liposomes) or mock vector (untreated control). Gene transfer was repeated at 2-week intervals during 12 weeks. HGF gene transfection effectively prevented the proteinuria and histopathological changes associated with glomerulonephritis. While liver and salivary gland sections from untreated GVHD mice showed prominent PBC- and SS-like changes, HGF gene transfection reduced these histopathological changes. HGF gene transfection greatly reduced the number of splenic B cells, host B cell major histocompatibility complex class II expression, and serum levels of IgG and anti-DNA antibodies. IL-4 mRNA expression in the spleen, liver, and kidneys was significantly decreased by HGF gene transfection. CD28 expression on DBA/2 CD4+ T cells was decreased by the addition of recombinant HGF in vitro. Furthermore, IL-4 production by DBA/2 CD4+ T cells stimulated by irradiated BDF1 dendritic cells was significantly inhibited by the addition of recombinant HGF in vitro. These results suggest that HGF gene transfection inhibited T helper 2 immune responses and reduced lupus nephritis, autoimmune sialoadenitis, and cholangitis in chronic GVHD mice. HGF may represent a novel strategy for the treatment of SLE, SS and PBC.