Umbilical cord blood transplantation (UCBT) is an alternative in the absence of related or unrelated HLA-matched donor. Defects in the mechanisms of immuno-surveillance, due to the absence of antigen-experienced lymphoid subsets transferred in the cord blood unit (CBU), render recipients more prone to viral infections. Our center conducted a clinical trial testing the benefit of ex vivo amplification of the CD34+ fraction (using SCF, FLT3L, TPO and GCSF) enriched from one CBU on hematopoietic reconstitution, while the CD34- fraction was infused at the same time as the expanded fraction (NCT01034449). We intended to simultaneously evaluate the potential impact of such a procedure on the immune reconstitution following freeze-thaw cycle for the CD34- fraction and on the expansion potential of lymphoid progenitors from CD34+ fraction.

We prospectively analyzed fresh patient samples from the clinical trial (called the EVEX), at different time points (Day 42, D100, D180, D360), and, in parallel, from patients receiving one or two un-manipulated CBU during the same period (Control group - CTRL). Immune monitoring included flow cytometry analysis of T-cells (CD3+, CD4+, CD8+) and sub-compartments, B-cells (CD19+), NK cells (CD3-CD16+CD56+) and Dendritic cells (DC).

Sixteen patients were included in EVEX, of which 12 were analyzed (4 excluded: 1 not grafted, 1 graft infection, 2 primary rejections before Day 42) and 12 patients in CTRL. In the EVEX group, all patients received reduced intensity conditioning, compared to 6 out of 12 in the CTRL group. GVHD prophylaxis was similar. EVEX showed a shorter duration of neutropenia compared to the CTRL (8.5 versus 17 days, p=0.02). NK and B-cell subsets recovered earlier than T-cells, reaching median normal values at 3 and 6 months, respectively. NK cell count tended to be lower in EVEX, starting at 3 months until 1 year. B-cell counts were lower for EVEX at D360. Both groups recovered T-cells within 12 months, but, interestingly, EVEX recovered earlier, reaching Healthy Donor (HD) median values as soon as D180. The CD4+ T-cells (CD4+T) recovered within 12 months for both groups, with EVEX values tending to plateau at low normal values (Fig 1). CD8+ T-cells (CD8+T) reached HD values within 12 months with an earlier recovery for EVEX (Fig 1). We characterized CD4+T and CD8+T compartments with CD45RA and CD27 delineating: naïve (TN: CD45RA+CD27+), central memory (TCM: CD45RA-CD27+), effector memory (TEM: CD45RA-CD27-) and late effector (TEMRA: CD45RA+CD27-) T-cells. Among the CD4+T, TN and TCM gradually increased until D360 for CTRL, while EVEX reached a plateau at D180. EVEX showed a higher TEMRA CD4+T count at D360. Thus, the plateau observed in the whole CD4+T at D180 in EVEX suggested an altered capacity to induce new CD4+T (thymic output or peripheral expansion), or an exhaustion phenomenon. To this end, we evaluated thymic function via CD31 expression among TN CD4+T and TREC analysis by qPCR. Both methods showed a decreased thymic function in EVEX after D180, probably related to the age difference observed (median: 52 vs. 26 years old for EVEX and CTRL, respectively). TEM and TEMRA CD8+T subsets were higher starting at D180 for the EVEX group. There was no difference between groups for myeloid or plasmacytoid DC.

Group outcomes differed in terms of chronic GVHD (cGVHD) (1 vs. 6 patients for EVEX and CTRL respectively, p=0.024). Among the subsets playing a role in cGVHD pathogeny, no difference was found in Treg/Tcon ratio (Treg = CD25hiCD127lo CD4+T, Tcon = non-Treg CD4+T), but memory B-cell subset tended to be greater in CTRL from D42 to D180 (median time of cGVHD onset = 186.5 days).

CMV reactivation rate was similar in both groups, occurring around 42 days post transplant. Vdelta-2 negative γd T-cells were greater in EVEX early after infection (D42), suggesting a comparable anti-CMV innate function. However, when looking at adaptive anti-CMV immunity with ELISpot, we found reduced IFNg-secreting cells in EVEX, although group size was small.

In conclusion, patients receiving ex vivo expanded CBU showed faster hematopoietic reconstitution than un-manipulated CBU and comparable recovery of the main immune subsets. Baseline clinical differences observed between groups may have impacted on some of the immune findings. A prospective and randomized trial would help to better analyze if the expansion procedure has an impact on immune reconstitution.


Milpied:Celgene: Honoraria, Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.