Immunosuppressive therapy for organ transplantation is essential for controlling rejection. When liver transplantation is performed as a therapy for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), recurrent HCC is one of the most fatal complications. In this study, we show that intratumoral murine IL-12 (mIL-12) gene therapy has the potential to be an effective treatment for malignancies under immunosuppression. C3H mice (H-2k), injected with FK506 (3 mg/kg) i.p., were s.c. implanted with 2.5 × 106 MH134 cells (H-2k) and we treated the established HCC with electroporation- mediated gene therapy using mIL-12 plasmid DNA. Intratumoral gene transfer of mIL-12 elevated intratumoral mIL-12, IFN-γ, and IFN-γ-inducible protein-10, significantly reduced the number of microvessels and inhibited the growth of HCC, compared with HCC-transferred control pCAGGS plasmid. The inhibition of tumor growth in immunosuppressed mice was comparable with that of mIL-12 gene therapy in immunocompetent mice. Intratumoral mIL-12 gene therapy enhanced lymphocytic infiltration into the tumor and elicited the MH134-specific CTL response even under FK506. The dose of FK506 was sufficient to prevent the rejection of distant allogenic skin grafts (BALB/c mice, H-2d) and tumors, B7-p815 (H-2d) used as transplants, during mIL-12 gene therapy against MH134. Ab-mediated depletion studies suggested that the inhibition of tumor growth, neovascularization, and spontaneous lung metastasis by mIL-12 was dependent almost entirely on NK cells and partially on T cells. These results suggest that intratumoral mIL-12 gene therapy is a potent effective strategy not only to treat recurrences of HCC in liver transplantation, but also to treat solid malignant tumors in immunosuppressed patients with transplanted organ.
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