An orthotopic liver transplant model in the rat was used to evaluate the role of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) in liver transplant rejection. There were significantly increased levels of TNF-α mRNA and parallel increases in 8-hydroxy-2′ deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG) indicative of oxidative DNA damage present 7 to 12 days after transplantation. Cells staining positively for 8-OHdG were localized to the cytoplasm of hepatocytes adjacent to the TNF-α expressing inflammatory cells in the portal areas or in patches surrounded by inflammatory cells in the hepatic sinusoids. Significantly more cells staining for 8-OHdG were found in the allogeneic grafts that were strongly rejected than in the syngeneic controls or in the grafts placed in species that accepted the allograft permanently after a rejection episode. TUNEL reactivity lagged 2 days behind peak reactivity for 8-OHdG. On day 12 after transplantation, many cells stained for both 8-OHdG and TUNEL, indicating that the cells suffering oxidative DNA injury were undergoing apoptosis or death. Oxidative injury resulted in mtDNA deletion consisting of 4,834 base-pairs. Studies of hepatocytes cultured from normal rats displayed dose-dependent relationships between TNF-α concentration and 8-OHdG and mtDNA mutation. Repetitive intraperitoneal injection of Enbrel, a TNF receptor blocker, significantly decreased hepatocyte 8-OHdG levels and the frequency of deleted mtDNA while greatly extending graft survival time. In conclusion, the data presented implicate TNF-α as being capable of causing oxidative DNA damage and mtDNA mutation in hepatocytes.
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