T cell-depleted allogeneic stem cell transplantation (alloSCT) is applied in patients with hematological malignancies to reduce the risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), but the associated increased risk of infections and disease relapse makes scheduled donor-lymphocyte-infusion (DLI) necessary. Since HLA-DP is not taken into account in the matching procedure, stem cell grafts from unrelated donors are often only 10/10 matched, and mismatched for HLA-DP. Under non-inflammatory conditions, expression of HLA-DP is restricted to hematopoietic cells. Therefore, treatment with HLA-DP mismatched donor CD4 T cells can induce a specific graft versus leukemia (GvL) effect. However, in some cases, patients receiving HLA-DP mismatched CD4 T cells suffer from GvHD mediated by a profound allo-HLA-DP specific immune response. Adoptive transfer of in-vitro selected allo-HLA-DP restricted donor T cells directed against antigens specifically expressed on hematopoietic cells may be an elegant strategy to induce a specific GvL effect without coinciding GvHD. To investigate the feasibility of this approach, the allo-HLA-DP restricted T cell repertoire was dissected to unravel potential tissue specificities and to investigate the presence of hematopoiesis-specific CD4+ T cells with therapeutic value within this compartment.

To induce allo-HLA-DP directed T cell responses, HLA-DP mismatched (10/10 matched) donor/patient pairs were selected. Donor PBMC were co-cultured with patient mature monocyte-derived dendritic cells (DC) for 14 days. The donor cells were first re-stimulated with autologous DC and depleted of activated auto-reactive CD137+ T cells using magnet cell separation (MACS). The negative fraction was then stimulated with the HLA-DP mismatched patient DC to induce activation of allo-reactive T cells. These allo-reactive CD137+ CD4+ T cells were clonally isolated using flowcytometric cell sorting, and expanded. Allo-HLA-DP restricted recognition of different hematopoietic and non-hematopoietic stimulator cells by the T cell clones was assessed using IFNγ and IL-4 ELISA. The T cells were tested against a large panel of hematopoietic cells (monocytes, DC, EBV-LCL and PHA blasts) of donor and patient origin, leukemic cell samples (AML) and non-hematopoietic cells (IFNγ pretreated, HLA-class-II expressing, skin-derived fibroblasts, and target-HLA-DPB1-transduced HELA, lung, kidney, and colon carcinoma cell lines).

After re-stimulation with patient DC, flowcytometry showed frequencies of 0.5-10% of allo-DC activated (CD137+) CD4+ T cells. After cell sorting 1521 T cell clones from 4 different HLA-DP mismatched patient/donor pairs were tested against donor EBV-LCL, donor DC, patient EBV-LCL and patient DC as initial screening for allo-reactivity. 80% of the T cell clones showed allo-reactivity, as defined by recognition of patient, but not donor-derived EBV-LCL and/or DC. 14% of the tested clones showed no reactivity and 6% were auto-reactive. The HLA-DP restriction was analyzed of 400 selected allo-reactive T cell clones, using a panel consisting of donor, patient and 3rd party EBV-LCL or DC, 3rd party fibroblasts and target HLA-DPB1 transduced HELA cells. Of these 400 T cell clones, 65% were confirmed to be HLA-DP restricted. From these allo-HLA-DP restricted T cell clones 80% recognized both hematopoietic and non-hematopoietic cells expressing the target allo-HLA-DPB1. The other 20% of the allo-HLA-DP restricted T cell clones only produced cytokines when stimulated with hematopoietic cells (EBV-LCL and/or DC), and not when stimulated with non-hematopoietic cells (Fibroblasts, HELA, carcinoma cell lines). Moreover, 40% of these T cell clones showing hematopoiesis-restricted recognition only recognized DC, but not EBV-LCL expressing the target HLA-DPB1 allele. These clones also recognized primary AML blasts and proliferating CD34+ progenitor cells, illustrating a myeloid lineage restricted recognition pattern.

These results illustrate that reactivity of allo-HLA-DP restricted T cells is not only determined by the expression of the target HLA-DPB1 allele, but is also dictated by cell lineage-specific gene expression causing differential peptide expression in HLA-DPB1. As a result, a significant portion of the allo-HLA-DP specific T cell repertoire harbors a specific GvL recognition pattern with high therapeutic value.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.