Caspases are key mediators in liver inflammation and apoptosis. In the present study we provide evidence that a nitric oxide (NO) derivative of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), NCX-1000 ([2(-acetyloxy)benzoic acid 3-(nitrooxymethyl)phenyl ester]), protects against liver damage in murine models of autoimmune hepatitis induced by i.v. injection of Con A or a Fas agonistic antibody, Jo2. Con A administration causes CD4(+) T lymphocytes to accumulate in the liver and up-regulates FasL expression, resulting in FasL-mediated cytotoxicity. Cotreating mice with NCX-1000, but not with UDCA, protected against liver damage induced by Con A and Jo2, inhibited IL-1 beta, IL-18, and IFN-gamma release and caspase 3, 8, and 9 activation. Studies on HepG2 cells demonstrated that NCX-1000, but not UDCA, directly prevented multiple caspase activation induced by Jo2. Incubating HepG2 cells with NCX-1000 resulted in intracellular NO formation and a DTT-reversible inhibition of proapoptotic caspases, suggesting that cysteine S-nitrosylation was the main mechanism responsible for caspase inhibition. Collectively, these data suggest that NCX-1000 protects against T helper 1-mediated liver injury by inhibiting both the proapoptotic and the proinflammatory branches of the caspase superfamily.
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