Chronic graft-versus-host disease (cGVHD) is a notorious complication of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation and causes disabling systemic inflammation and fibrosis. In this novel study, we focused on a relationship between endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and cGVHD, and aimed to create effective treatment of cGVHD. A series of experiments were conducted using a mouse model of cGVHD. Our data suggested (1) that ER stress was elevated in organs affected by cGVHD and (2) that 4-phenylbutyric acid (PBA) could reduce cGVHD-induced ER stress and thereby alleviate systemic inflammation and fibrosis. Because fibroblasts are thought to be implicated in cGVHD-elicited fibrosis and because macrophages are reported to play a role in the development of cGVHD, we investigated cGVHD-triggered ER stress in fibroblasts and macrophages. Our investigation demonstrated (1) that indicators for ER stress and activation markers for fibroblasts were elevated in cGVHD-affected lacrimal gland fibroblasts and (2) that they could be reduced by PBA. Our work also indicated that splenic macrophages from PBA-dosed mice exhibited the lower levels of ER stress and M2 macrophage markers than those from cGVHD-affected mice. Collectively, this study suggests that the reduction of ER stress utilizing PBA can be a clinically translatable method to treat systemic cGVHD.
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