We evaluated the ability of a macromolecular prodrug of dexamethasone (P-Dex) to treat lupus nephritis in (NZB x NZW)F1 mice. We also explored the mechanism underlying the anti-inflammatory effects of this prodrug. P-Dex eliminated albuminuria in most (NZB x NZW)F1 mice. Furthermore, P-Dex reduced the incidence of severe nephritis and extended lifespan in these mice. P-Dex treatment also prevented the development of lupus-associated hypertension and vasculitis. Although P-Dex did not reduce serum levels of anti-dsDNA antibodies or glomerular immune complexes, P-Dex reduced macrophage recruitment to the kidney and attenuated tubulointerstitial injury. In contrast to what was observed with free dexamethasone, P-Dex did not induce any deterioration of bone quality. However, P-Dex did lead to reduced peripheral white blood cell counts and adrenal gland atrophy. These results suggest that P-Dex is more effective and less toxic than free dexamethasone for the treatment of lupus nephritis in (NZB x NZW)F1 mice. Furthermore, the data suggest that P-Dex may treat nephritis by attenuating the renal inflammatory response to immune complexes, leading to decreased immune cell infiltration and diminished renal inflammation and injury.
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