Introduction: Recipient sensitization is one of the most critical problems facing clinical transplantation. Allosensitized recipients often rapidly reject vascularized solid organ grafts as a result of preformed anti-donor antibody. Similarly, bone marrow transplantation for sickle cell disease and thalassemia is limited by sensitization from transfusion. A method to prevent sensitization would have a significant impact on transplant outcomes. Until recently, T cells were believed to be the primary effector cell in the induction of adaptive immune responses. We recently found that humoral immunity provides a dominant barrier in allosensitization to MHC antigens. B cell activation occurs through T-cell-dependent responses via signaling from the co-stimulatory molecule CD154 (on T cells) to its ligand CD40 (on B cells). Here, we examined whether blocking the costimulatory interaction between T and B cells during exposure to alloantigen would prevent allosensitization.

Materials and Methods: Mice deficient for CD154 molecule (CD154−/ −, H-2b), α β-TCR+ T cells (TCRβ −/ −, H-2b); or wild type B6 (H-2b) mice received allogeneic BALB/c (H-2d) skin grafts (SG) on day 0. Some B6 mice were also treated with anti-CD154 (day0 and day+3) and/or anti-α β-TCR mAb (day-3) peritransplant. Antibodies were detected by flow cytometry cross-match (FCM) assay and reported as mean fluorescence intensity (MFI).

Results: CD154−/ − mice rejected primary BALB/c SG with a time course similar to normal B6 controls (12.4 ± 2.1 vs. 12.7 ± 2.4 days). TCRβ −/ − mice accepted SG permanently (>120 days). Notably, anti-donor antibody was not generated in either the CD154−/ − or TCRβ −/ − mice (MFI: 4.1 ± 0.1 and 4.2 ± 0.4) after SG compared with Ab in naïve serum (3.0±0.2). Sensitized B6 mice had significantly higher antibody titers (106.8 ± 35.1) 4 weeks after SG rejection. A second SG transplanted 5 to 7 weeks after the first graft was rejected at an accelerated rate (9.0 ± 0.8 days, P < 0.05) in the CD154−/ − mice, but no anti-donor MHC antibody was produced. Second grafts placed on TCRβ −/ − mice were accepted, as were the primary SG. In normal B6 recipients pretreated with anti-CD154 or anti-α β-TCR alone, SG survival was not significantly prolonged. The Ab titers were only slightly higher in mice treated with anti-CD154 (5.9±3.4; P>0.05) than in naïve mice, and significantly higher in mice treated with mAb anti-α β-TCR (45.1±25.6; P=0.03). The combined treatment with both mAbs resulted in complete abrogation of Ab production (4.2±0.9) and 70% of skin grafts survived >100 days. Germinal center formation, reflective of B cell activation, was completely disrupted in mice treated with anti-CD154 alone or combined with anti-α β-TCR.

Conclusion: These results suggest that the CD40/CD154 co-stimulatory pathway is critically important in B cell activation to generate alloantibody. Notably, blocking molecular interactions between CD40/CD154 abrogated the generation of antibody and blocked germinal center formation, inducing B cell tolerance. The additional removal of recipient T cells in the context of co-stimulatory blockade resulted in the induction of T as well as B cell tolerance. These findings are the first demonstration that sensitization can be prevented through blockade of co-stimulatory interactions in the generation of adaptive immune responses and could have a significant impact on management of sensitized recipients in the clinic.

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