Normal and genetically engineered skeletal muscle cells (myoblasts) show promise as drug delivery vehicles and as therapeutic agents for treating muscle degeneration in muscular dystrophies. A limitation is the immune response of the host to the transplanted cells. Allogeneic myoblasts are rapidly rejected unless immunosuppressants are administered. However, continuous immunosuppression is associated with significant toxic side effects. Here we test whether immunosuppressive treatment, administered only transiently after allogeneic myoblast transplantation, allows the long-term survival of the transplanted cells in mice. Two immunosuppressive treatments with different modes of action were used: (a) cyclosporine A (CSA); and (b) monoclonal antibodies to intracellular adhesion molecule-1 and leukocyte function-associated molecule-1. The use of myoblasts genetically engineered to express beta-galactosidase allowed quantitation of the survival of allogeneic myoblasts at different times after cessation of the immunosuppressive treatments. Without host immunosuppression, allogeneic myoblasts were rejected from all host strains tested, although the relative time course differed as expected for low and high responder strains. The allogeneic myoblasts initially fused with host myofibers, but these hybrid cells were later destroyed by the massive immunological response of the host. However, transient immunosuppressive treatment prevented the hybrid myofiber destruction and led to their long-term retention. Even four months after the cessation of treatment, the hybrid myofibers persisted and no inflammatory infiltrate was present in the tissue. Such long-term survival indicates that transient immunosuppression may greatly increase the utility of myoblast transplantation as a therapeutic approach to the treatment of muscle and nonmuscle disease.

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