Either donor or host antigen presenting cells (APC) are sufficient for the initiation of CD4 dependent graft versus host disease (GVHD). However the molecular transcription pathways within APC required for this effect are unknown. The NF-kB/Rel family member RelB is associated with dendritic cell (DC) maturation and is critical for the induction of potent APC function. DC from RelB−/− mice had markedly reduced levels of CD40 and to a lesser extent CD80/CD86 following in vitro activation. Following total body irradiation, the number of residual splenic DC with nuclear RelB was increased 5-fold relative to untreated mice. We therefore examined the role of RelB within donor and host APC in GVHD utilizing two well established bone marrow transplant models of CD4-dependant GVHD. To study the requirement of RelB within host APC we generated chimeric mice by transplanting wild-type (wt) or RelB−/− B6 bone marrow into irradiated wt B6 mice. Following immune reconstitution 4–6 months later, the number and frequency of DC (CD11chi and CD11cdimB220+) was equivalent in RelB−/− and RelB+/+ chimeras, although RelB−/− chimeras were specifically deficient in CD11chiCD4+ DC. Chimeras were subsequently transplanted with allogeneic Balb/c bone marrow and purified T cells. The absence of RelB within host APC significantly improved survival (survival day 60: 83% v 19%, P< .0001) and GVHD clinical scores were significantly reduced in RelB−/− chimeras for the first 4 weeks after transplant but subsequently rose to levels equivalent to those in surviving RelB+/+ chimeras. All RelB−/− and RelB+/+ chimeras that received syngeneic grafts survived without clinical evidence of GVHD. Sera from RelB−/− chimera recipients of allogeneic grafts contained reduced IFNg (117 ± 23 vs 253 ± 45 pg/ml; P< 0.02) and increased IL-5 (358 ± 105 vs 112 ± 20 pg/ml; P<0.05) compared to RelB+/+ chimera recipients (mean ± SE). Furthermore, CD4 T cells purified from the spleens of RelB−/− chimera recipients produced 2.6 fold more IL-4 (451 ± 31 vs 168 ± 17 pg/ml; P=0.01) than those from RelB+/+ chimera recipients. Taken together these data suggest the absence of nuclear RelB translocation within host APC abrogates GVHD and this is associated with the induction of donor Th2 differentiation. To study the role of RelB within donor APC we transplanted wt or RelB−/− B6 bone marrow and wt purified T cells into irradiated B6D2F1 recipients. In this model, GVHD severity was identical for the first 4 weeks after transplant but subsequently GVHD clinical scores in the recipients of RelB−/− donor APC returned toward levels seen in syngeneic recipients (clinical scores at day 49: 1.0 ± 0.6; n=6 vs 3.75 ± 0.4; n=6; RelB−/− vs RelB+/+P=0.01). This attenuation of acute GVHD in recipients of RelB−/− donor-derived APC was associated with the reconstitution of donor DC on day 21. These data suggest the inhibition of the nuclear RelB translocation within APC represents a potential new therapeutic target for the prevention of allograft rejection and GVHD.

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