A Ber-H2/saporin immunotoxin, consisting of the single-chain ribosome-inactivating protein saporin-S6 and the anti-CD30 monoclonal antibody Ber-H2, gave encouraging results in the treatment of refractory Hodgkin's disease but caused a transient hepatotoxicity. The accumulation of Ber-H2/saporin conjugate and of its components by rat liver parenchymal and nonparenchymal cells was studied. The in vivo concentration of intravenously injected Ber-H2/saporin, saporin or Ber-H2 in nonparenchymal cells was 4-, 25-and 11-fold higher, respectively, than that in parenchymal cells. Adherent in vitro cultured nonparenchymal cells, mostly Kupffer cells, accumulated the proteins approximately 10 times more than parenchymal cells; traces of free saporin were taken up by both types of cells. In vitro protein synthesis by both cell types was inhibited by 50% at nanomolar concentrations of saporin. Nonparenchymal cells were sensitive to Ber-H2/saporin at picomolar concentrations, whereas parenchymal cells were unaffected by the immunotoxin up to 100 pmol/L. The results of the uptake of, and the sensitivity to, the immunotoxin suggest that the sensitivity of liver cells is proportional to the uptake and that the in vivo damage to parenchymal cells is at least in part mediated by the toxicity to nonparenchymal liver cells. (Hepatology 1994;20:940–947).
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