Inflammation and the balance of Treg and Th17 cells in transplant rejection and tolerance

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Purpose of review

Inflammation of the allograft, occurring as a consequence of hypoxia and ischemia/reperfusion injury, adversely influences short-term and long-term transplant outcomes. Thus far, imbalance of tissue-protective Treg and tissue-destructive Th17 cells has been confirmed in a number of tissue-inflammatory states, including autoimmune disease. Hence, benefits of tilting Treg–Th17 equilibrium toward dominance of Tregs may promote transplant tolerance.

Recent findings

Adverse graft inflammation creates extreme resistance to the induction of donor-specific tolerance. Proinflammatory cytokines, when abundantly expressed within the graft and draining lymph nodes, prevent commitment of donor-activated T cells into graft-protective, T-regulatory phenotype, while fostering generation of donor-reactive Th1, Th2 or Th17 effector subsets. In addition, the inflammatory milieu may destabilize the program of both natural and induced Tregs, converting them into inflammatory, effector-like phenotypes. Therefore permanent, Treg-dependent acceptance of an allograft may not be achieved without limiting adverse tissue inflammation.


Balance of graft-protective regulatory and graft-destructive effector T cells largely depends on the balance of proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines in the milieu, in which donor-directed T-cell response occurs. In the absence of proinflammatory cytokines, the constitutive expression of TGF-β may guide recipient T cells into a tissue-protective, pro-tolerant mode. Therefore, targeting adverse tissue inflammation may represent a powerful means to tilt antidonor immunity towards tolerance.

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