Injury-related cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor–alpha (TNF), may preserve liver-specific gene expression during the subsequent regenerative response by modulating the activity of transcription factors, including CCAAT/enhancer binding proteins (C/EBPs), which regulate differentiated gene expression in hepato-cytes. To test this theory, rats were treated with neutralizing antibody to TNF or nonimmune immunoglobulin before partial hepatectomy (PH) and regenerative changes in the messenger RNAs (mRNAs), proteins, and DNA-binding activities of C/EBP isoforms and the expression of a C/EBP-regulated gene, phosphoenol pyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK), were compared. Before PH, the expressions of C/EBP-α, C/EBP-β, and C/EBP-γ were similar in the two treatment groups. Dimers containing C/EBP-α and C/EBP-β accounted for virtually all of the C/EBP DNA binding activity and mRNA for PEPCK, the rate limiting hepatocyte enzyme for gluconeogenesis, was barely detected. After PH, in control rats, mRNA and nuclear protein concentrations of C/EBP-β and C/EBP-γ increased approximately fivefold by 3 hours after PH. This was accompanied by increased DNA binding activity of these C/EBP isoforms and decreased DNA binding activity of C/EBP-α. mRNA levels of PEPCK, a gene that is strongly transactivated by non-α C/EBP isoforms, increased fivefold. Pretreatment with anti-TNF antibodies prevented regenerative induction of C/EBP β and γ expression and DNA-binding activity. The nature of dimers binding to C/EBP cis-acting elements remained similar to that observed in liver before PH and increases in PEPCK mRNA were blunted. These results support the theory that TNF helps maintain liver-specific gene expression during liver regeneration by altering transcription factor complexes that regulate differentiated gene expression in hepatocytes. (HEPATOLOGY 1995; 22:252–261.)
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