Background & aims: Cardiotrophin-1 (CT-1) is a member of the interleukin 6 (IL-6) family of cytokines, which protect cardiac myocytes against thermal and ischemic insults. In this study, we investigated the expression of CT-1 by liver cells and its possible hepatoprotective properties.
Methods: We analyzed the production, signaling, and antiapoptotic properties of CT-1 in hepatocytes and the expression of this cytokine during liver regeneration. We also investigated whether CT-1 might exert protective effects in animal models of liver damage.
Results: We found that CT-1 is up-regulated during liver regeneration and exerts potent antiapoptotic effects on hepatocytic cells. Hepatocytes cultured under serum starvation or stimulated with the pro-apoptotic cytokine transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) produce CT-1, which behaves as an autocrine/paracrine survival factor. Treatment with an adenovirus encoding CT-1 efficiently protects rats against fulminant liver failure after subtotal hepatectomy, an intervention that causes 91% mortality in control animals whereas 54% of those receiving CT-1 gene therapy were long-term survivors. This protective effect was associated with reduced caspase-3 activity and activation of the antiapoptotic signaling cascades signal transducer and activator of transcription (Stat-3), extracellular regulated kinases (Erk) 1/2, and Akt in the remnant liver. Gene transfer of CT-1 to the liver also abrogated Concanavalin A (Con-A) liver injury and activated antiapoptotic pathways in the hepatic tissue. Similar protection was obtained by treating the animals with 5 microg of recombinant CT-1 given intravenously before Con-A administration.
Conclusions: We show that CT-1 is a hepatocyte survival factor that efficiently reduces hepatocellular damage in animal models of acute liver injury. Our data point to CT-1 as a new promising hepatoprotective therapy.