Tracking donor-reactive T cells: Evidence for clonal deletion in tolerant kidney transplant patients.

Morris H *, DeWolf S *, Robins H, Sprangers B, LoCascio S, Shonts B, Kawai T, Wong W, Yang S, Zuber J, Shen Y [+], Sykes M [+]

Science translational medicine, 2015.

Lab members marked as bold; * authors with equal contribution; [+] co-senior authors


T cell responses to allogeneic major histocompatibility complex antigens present a formidable barrier to organ transplantation, necessitating long-term immunosuppression to minimize rejection. Chronic rejection and drug-induced morbidities are major limitations that could be overcome by allograft tolerance induction. Tolerance was first intentionally induced in humans via combined kidney and bone marrow transplantation (CKBMT), but the mechanisms of tolerance in these patients are incompletely understood. We now establish an assay to identify donor-reactive T cells and test the role of deletion in tolerance after CKBMT. Using high-throughput sequencing of the T cell receptor B chain CDR3 region, we define a fingerprint of the donor-reactive T cell repertoire before transplantation and track those clones after transplant. We observed posttransplant reductions in donor-reactive T cell clones in three tolerant CKBMT patients; such reductions were not observed in a fourth, nontolerant, CKBMT patient or in two conventional kidney transplant recipients on standard immunosuppressive regimens. T cell repertoire turnover due to lymphocyte-depleting conditioning only partially accounted for the observed reductions in tolerant patients; in fact, conventional transplant recipients showed expansion of circulating donor-reactive clones, despite extensive repertoire turnover. Moreover, loss of donor-reactive T cell clones more closely associated with tolerance induction than in vitro functional assays. Our analysis supports clonal deletion as a mechanism of allograft tolerance in CKBMT patients. The results validate the contribution of donor-reactive T cell clones identified before transplant by our method, supporting further exploration as a potential biomarker of transplant outcomes.