Sustained expression of naked plasmid DNA encoding hepatocyte growth factor in mice promotes liver and overall body growth



To understand the physiological functions of exogenous hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) on normal adult animals, we delivered human HGF gene into mice by a hydrodynamics-based in vivo gene transfection approach using a naked plasmid vector. Systemic administration of naked plasmid containing HGF cDNA driven under cytomegalovirus promoter (pCMV-HGF) by rapid injection via the tail vein produced a remarkable level of human HGF protein in the circulation, beginning to appear at 4 hours and peaking at 12 hours following injection. Tissue distribution studies identified the liver as the organ with the highest level of transgene expression. Through weekly repeated injections of plasmid vector, we achieved sustained, long-term, high levels of exogenous HGF expression in mice for 8 weeks. Increases of more than 31% and 16% in liver and body weights were found, respectively, in the mice that received pCMV-HGF plasmid compared with that given the control vector for 8 weeks. Expression of exogenous HGF in vivo activated mitogen-activated protein kinases and induced proliferating cell nuclear antigen expression in normal adult liver and kidneys. These data suggest that systemic administration of naked plasmid vector is a convenient, safe, and highly efficient approach to introduce and maintain exogenous HGF gene expression in vivo in a controllable fashion. Our results also indicate that long-term expression of human HGF in mice markedly activates growth-related signal transduction events, promotes cell proliferation, and leads to liver and overall body growth in whole adult animals.