Immunopathology of rejection: do the rules of solid organ apply to vascularized composite allotransplantation?

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Purpose of review

As both the number of vascularized composite allotransplants (VCAs) recipients and the duration of their follow-up are limited, immunopathology of VCA rejection remains incompletely understood. VCAs have several immunological peculiarities, which make inaccurate a direct extrapolation of all rules established for solid organs.

Recent findings

Despite their bone marrow content, VCA do not induce chimerism in recipient and are therefore not spontaneously tolerated. Skin compartment of VCA contains a high density of antigen-presenting cells (APCs), some with self-renewal capacity. Donor APCs are responsible for continuous direct allosensitization of recipient's T cells that explains the high incidence of skin T-cell-mediated rejection and their occurrence beyond 1 year.

Recent findings

Regenerative capability of the skin prevents the development of chronic rejection of this compartment as long as immunosuppression is maintained. In contrast, VCA can develop graft arteriosclerosis, which could be because of T cell and/or chronic antibody-mediated rejection (AMR). VCA recipients can indeed develop donor-specific antibodies (DSA). Whether DSA can also trigger acute AMR of VCA remains to be clarified.


A better understanding of the specificities of the immunopathology of VCA rejection should pave the way for the rationalization of immunosuppressive strategies aiming at optimizing long-term outcome.

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