Perforin-independent rejection of transplanted human stem cells

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The NOD/SCID mouse model is one of the most established model systems for the analysis of human stem cells in vivo. The lack of mature B and T cells renders NOD/SCID mice susceptible to transplantable human stem and progenitor cells. One remaining functional component of the immune system in NOD/SCID mice is natural killer (NK) cells. We rationalized that by eliminating NK cell-mediated cytotoxicity in this model system engraftment of human haematopoietic stem cells could be improved. Thus perforin-deficient NOD/SCID mice (PNOD/SCID) were generated, which display a complete lack of NK cell-mediated cytotoxicity. To test the engraftment potential of human stem cells in PNOD/SCID mice, we compared the repopulating potential of human haematopoietic stem cells in these mice with the repopulating potential in NOD/SCID mice. Upon injection with varying numbers of mononuclear cells from human cord blood, the number of engrafted PNOD/SCID mice was lower (34·8%) than the number of engrafted NOD/SCID mice (64·7%). Similarly, injection of purified CD34+ human cord blood cells led to engraftment in 32·3% PNOD/SCID versus 60% in NOD/SCID mice. Surprisingly, these results show that the inactivation of cytotoxic activity of NK cells in PNOD/SCID mice did not result in better engraftment with human haematopoietic stem cells. A potential reason for this observation could be that compensatory activation of NK cells in PNOD/SCID mice induces high levels of soluble factors resulting in an environment unfavourable for human stem cell engraftment.

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