Hepatocyte transplantation is being evaluated as an alternative to liver transplantation for metabolic support during liver failure and for definitive treatment of inherited liver diseases. However, as with liver transplantation, transplantation of allogeneic hepatocytes requires prolonged immunosuppression with its associated untoward effects. Therefore, we explored strategies for the genetic modification of donor hepatocytes that could eliminate allograft rejection, obviating the need for immunosuppression. Products of early region 3 (AdE3) of the adenoviral genome are known to protect infected cells from immune recognition and destruction. In the present study we showed that immortalized rat hepatocytes that had been stably transduced with AdE3 before transplantation into fully MHC-mismatched rats are protected from allograft rejection. Quantitative real-time PCR analysis showed that a similar number of engrafted AdE3-transfected hepatocytes had survived in syngeneic and allogeneic recipients. AdE3 expression did not reduce expression of MHC class I on the surfaces of donor hepatocytes. Consistent with this, the in vivo cytotoxic cell-mediated alloresponse was attenuated but not abolished in recipients of AdE3-transfected allogeneic hepatocytes. In contrast, graft survival correlated with a marked reduction in cell-surface localization of Fas receptor in the transplanted cells and inhibition of Fas-mediated apoptosis, which are related to the antiapoptotic functions of the AdE3 proteins. CONCLUSION: AdE3 gene products prevent hepatocyte allograft rejection mainly by protecting the cells from the effector limb of the host immune response and could be used as a tool to facilitate allogeneic hepatocyte transplantation.
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