Interferon gamma (IFNγ) is a potent cytokine that displays a variety of anti-viral, anti-proliferative, immunomodulatory, apoptotic and anti-fibrotic functions. However, its clinical use is limited to the treatment of few diseases due to the rapid clearance from the body. PEGylated IFN-alpha formulations are shown to be beneficial in viral hepatitis, but PEGylation of IFNγ to enhance its therapeutic effects in liver fibrosis is not yet explored. Liver fibrosis is characterized by the extensive accumulation of an abnormal extracellular matrix and is the major cause of liver-related morbidity and mortality worldwide. To date, there is no pharmacotherapy available for this disease. We modified IFNγ with different-sized linear PEG molecules (5, 10 and 20kDa) and assessed the biological activity in vitro and in vivo. All PEGylated IFNγ constructs were biologically active and activated IFNγ signaling in vitro as determined with a nitric oxide release assay and a pGAS-Luc reporter plasmid assay, respectively. Similar to IFNγ, all PEGylated IFNγ induced a significant reduction of fibrotic parameters in mouse NIH3T3 fibroblasts as shown with immunohistochemical staining and quantitative PCR analyses. In vivo, the pharmacokinetic profile of radiolabeled (125)I-IFNγ-PEG conjugates revealed a decreased renal clearance and an increased plasma half-life with an increase of PEG size. Moreover, the liver accumulation of PEGylated IFNγ constructs was significantly higher than the unmodified IFNγ, which was also confirmed by increased MHC-II expression in the livers. Furthermore, in a CCl(4)-induced acute liver injury model in mice, PEGylated constructs reduced the early fibrotic parameters more drastically than unmodified IFNγ. Of note, these effects were stronger with higher PEG-sized IFNγ constructs. These data nicely correlated with the pharmacokinetic data. In conclusion, PEGylation significantly improved the pharmacokinetics, liver uptake and anti-fibrotic effects of IFNγ. This study opens new opportunities to exploit the therapeutic applications of PEGylated IFNγ for the treatment of liver fibrosis and other diseases.
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