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Immunomodulation by juglone alleviates acute graft-versus-host disease without compromising the graft-versus-leukaemia activity in mice.

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) remains a major barrier to successful transplantation outcomes. Recent studies have shown that pharmacotherapy for GVHD should target both the innate and adaptive inflammatory immune responses. Juglone, a redox-active phytochemical found in walnuts, has shown potent anti-inflammatory effects in models of colitis and inflammatory bowel disease. However, its effects on T-cell-mediated immune responses remain largely unknown. Considering the overlapping mediators of inflammation in GVHD and the aforementioned conditions, we investigated the use of juglone as a prophylactic agent for GVHD.

EXPERIMENTAL APPROACH: Immunomodulatory activity and mechanism of action of juglone were studied using murine splenic leukocytes in vitro. The GVHD prophylactic efficacy of orally administered juglone was evaluated using a murine model of allogeneic haematopoietic stem cell transplantation based on an MHC mismatch.

KEY RESULTS: Juglone exhibited immunomodulatory activity by (i) inhibiting the activation of dendritic cells and CD4+ T-cells, (ii) inhibiting cytokine secretion and lymphocyte proliferation, and (iii) inducing exhaustion of CD4+ T-cells, as shown by increased expression of CTLA-4 (CD152) and Fas (CD95). Oral administration of juglone significantly reduced mortality and morbidity associated with GVHD while maintaining graft-versus-leukaemia activity. This was accompanied by a decrease in the number of naïve CD4+ cells, and an increase in the number of CD4+ and CD8+ central memory T-cells.

CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS: Juglone is a potent immunomodulator for GVHD prophylaxis. Our study is the first to provide a dosage framework for the oral administration of juglone that can be used for clinical development.

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