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The success rate of transplanted organs from brain-dead cadaver donors is consistently inferior to that of living sources. As cadaver and living unrelated donors are equally genetically disparate with a given recipient, the difference must lie within the donor himself and/or the effects of organ preservation and storage. We have hypothesized that irreversible central nervous system injury may up-regulate proinflammatory mediators and cell surface molecules in peripheral organs to be engrafted, making them more prone to host inflammatory and immunological responses.Rats undergoing surgically induced acutely increased intracranial pressure(explosive brain death) were followed for 6 hr. Their peripheral tissues were examined by reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction and immunohistology, serum factors were assessed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and the influence of inflammatory molecules in the blood stream was determined by cross-circulation experiments with normal animals.mRNA expression of both lymphocyte- and macrophage-associated products increased dramatically in all tissues. Similar factors in serum were co-incidentally increased; these were shown to be active in vivo by cross-circulation with normal animals. The organs of all control groups, including animals with important ischemic injury and with hemorrhagic shock, were negative. Up-regulation of MHC class I and II antigens and the co-stimulatory molecule B7 suggests increased immunogenicity of the peripheral organs. These changes could be inhibited by: (i) administration of a recombinant soluble P-selectin glycoprotein ligand-Ig, a P- and E-selectin antagonist; and (ii) a fusion protein, cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen 4-Ig, which blocks B7-mediated T-cell co-stimulation.Activation of peripheral organs following explosive brain death may be caused by various interrelated events, including the effects of massive acute central injury, hypotension, and circulating factors. Almost complete suppression of these changes could be produced by biological agents. Such interventions, if reproducible in humans, could improve the quality of organs from "marginal" donors, broadening the criteria for donor acceptance.