Follicular T helper cells and humoral reactivity in kidney transplant patients


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Abstract

SummaryMemory B cells play a pivotal role in alloreactivity in kidney transplantation. Follicular T helper (Tfh) cells play an important role in the differentiation of B cells into immunoglobulin-producing plasmablasts [through interleukin (IL)-21]. It is unclear to what extent this T cell subset regulates humoral alloreactivity in kidney transplant patients, therefore we investigated the absolute numbers and function of peripheral Tfh cells (CD4POSCXCR5POS T cells) in patients before and after transplantation. In addition, we studied their relationship with the presence of donor-specific anti-human leucocyte antigen (HLA) antibodies (DSA), and the presence of Tfh cells in rejection biopsies. After transplantation peripheral Tfh cell numbers remained stable, while their IL-21-producing capacity decreased under immunosuppression. When isolated after transplantation, peripheral Tfh cells still had the capacity to induce B cell differentiation and immunoglobulin production, which could be inhibited by an IL-21-receptor-antagonist. After transplantation the quantity of Tfh cells was the highest in patients with pre-existent DSA. In kidney biopsies taken during rejection, Tfh cells co-localized with B cells and immunoglobulins in follicular-like structures. Our data on Tfh cells in kidney transplantation demonstrate that Tfh cells may mediate humoral alloreactivity, which is also seen in the immunosuppressed milieu.

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