Calcineurin inhibitors affect B cell antibody responses indirectly by interfering with T cell help

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SummaryIn general, humoral immune responses depend critically upon T cell help. In transplantation, prevention or treatment of humoral rejection therefore require drugs that ideally inhibit both B cell and T helper cell activity. Here, we studied the effects of commonly used immunosuppressive drugs [tacrolimus, cyclosporin, mycophenolic acid (MPA) and rapamycin] on T cell helper activity and on T cell-dependent B cell responses. T cells were activated polyclonally in the presence of immunosuppressive drugs in order to analyse the effect of these drugs on T cell proliferation, co-stimulatory ligand expression and cytokines. The impact of immunosuppressive drugs on T cell-dependent immunoglobulin production by B cells was addressed in T–B cell co-cultures. All drugs affected T cell proliferation and attenuated T cell co-stimulatory ligand (CD154 and CD278) expression when T cells were activated polyclonally. Tacrolimus, cyclosporin and rapamycin also attenuated B cell stimulatory cytokine mRNA levels in T cells. As a consequence, a decrease in immunoglobulin levels was observed in autologous T–B cell co-cultures, where T cell help is essential for immunoglobulin production. In contrast, when pre-activated T cells were used to stimulate autologous B cells, calcineurin inhibitors failed to inhibit B cell immunoglobulin production, whereas MPA and rapamycin did show inhibition. From these studies, it is evident that calcineurin inhibitors affect the humoral immune response by interfering with T helper signals, but not by targeting B cells directly. Furthermore, our studies support the necessity of intervening in T cell helper function to attenuate humoral responses.

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