Automatic control over exogenous gene expression in response to the activity of disease is a crucial hurdle for gene transfer-based therapies. Towards achieving this goal, we created a "cytosensor" that perceives local inflammatory states and subsequently regulates foreign gene expression. alpha-Smooth muscle actin is known to be expressed in glomerular mesangial cells exclusively in pathologic situations. CArG box element, the crucial regulatory sequence of the alpha-smooth muscle actin promoter, was used as a sensor for glomerular inflammation. Rat mesangial cells were stably transfected with an expression plasmid that introduces a beta-galactosidase gene under the control of CArG box elements. In vitro, the established cells expressed beta-galactosidase exclusively after stimulation with serum. To examine whether the cells are able to automatically control transgene activity in vivo, serum-stimulated or unstimulated cells were transferred into normal rat glomeruli or glomeruli subjected to anti-Thy 1 glomerulonephritis. When stimulated cells were transferred into the normal glomeruli, beta-galactosidase expression was switched off in vivo within 3 d. In contrast, when unstimulated cells were transferred into the nephritic glomeruli, transgene expression was substantially induced. These data indicate the feasibility of using the CArG box element as a molecular sensor for glomerular injury. In the context of advanced forms of gene therapy, this approach provides a novel concept for automatic regulation of local transgene expression where the transgene is required to be activated during inflammation and deactivated when the inflammation has subsided.