Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an immune-mediated inflammatory disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that might benefit from anti-inflammatory therapies. However, systemic delivery of anti-inflammatory drugs in MS patients has so far been disappointing, mostly due to the limited capacity of these molecules to enter the CNS. We injected into the cisterna magna (i.c.) of Biozzi AB/H mice affected by a relapsing-remitting form of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), the animal model of MS, a non-replicative herpes simplex virus (HSV) type-1-derived vector containing the interleukin (IL)-4 gene (d120:LacZ:IL-4). CNS delivery of the d120:LacZ:IL-4 vector, after EAE onset, induced the in situ production of IL-4 by CNS-resident cells facing the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) spaces and reduced by 47% (P < 0.02) the disease-related deaths. Compared with mice treated with the control d120:LacZ vector, IL-4-treated mice also showed a shorter duration of the first EAE attack, a longer inter-relapse period, and a reduction in the severity and duration of the first relapse. Protection from EAE progression in IL-4-treated mice was associated with activation of microglia in spinal cord areas where mRNA content of the pro-inflammatory chemokines, macrophage chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1) and Rantes, was reduced and that of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-4 was increased. Finally, CNS-infiltrating mononuclear cells from IL-4-treated mice produced lower levels of MCP-1 mRNA compared with control mice. Our results, showing that IL-4 gene delivery using HSV-1 vectors induces protection from EAE by in situ modulating the cytokine/chemokine-mediated circuits sustaining effector cell functions, indicate that the intrathecal 'therapeutic' use of nonreplicative HSV-1-derived vectors containing anti-inflammatory molecules might represent an alternative strategy in inflammatory diseases of the CNS.
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