Viruses induce signaling and host defense during infection. Employing these natural trigger mechanisms to combat organ or tissue failure is hampered by harmful effects of most viruses. Here we demonstrate that SV40 empty capsids (Virus Like Particles-VLPs), with no DNA, induce host Hsp/c70 and Akt-1 survival pathways, key players in cellular survival mechanisms. We postulated that this signaling might protect against organ damage in vivo. Acute kidney injury (AKI) was chosen as target. AKI is critical, prevalent disorder in humans, caused by nephrotoxic agents, sepsis or ischemia, via apoptosis/necrosis of renal tubular cells, with high morbidity and mortality. Systemic administration of VLPs activated Akt-1 and upregulated Hsp/c70 in vivo. Experiments in mercury-induced AKI mouse model demonstrated that apoptosis, oxidative stress and toxic renal failure were significantly attenuated by pretreatment with capsids prior to the mercury insult. Survival rate increased from 12% to >60%, with wide dose response. This study demonstrates that SV40 VLPs, devoid of DNA, may potentially be used as prophylactic agent for AKI. We anticipate that these finding may be projected to a wide range of organ failure, using empty capsids of SV40 as well as other viruses.
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