Several approaches successfully achieve allograft tolerance in preclinical models but are challenging to translate into clinical practice. Many clinically relevant factors can attenuate allograft tolerance induction, including intrinsic genetic resistance, peritransplant infection, inflammation, and preexisting antidonor immunity. The prevailing view for immune memory as a tolerance barrier is that the host harbors memory cells that spontaneously cross-react to donor MHC antigens. Such preexisting “heterologous” memory cells have direct reactivity to donor cells and resist most tolerance regimens. In this study, we developed a model system to determine if an alternative form of immune memory could also block tolerance. We posited that host memory T cells could potentially respond to donor-derived non-MHC antigens, such as latent viral antigens or autoantigens, to which the host is immune. Results show that immunity to a model nonself antigen, ovalbumin (OVA), can dramatically disrupt tolerance despite undetectable initial reactivity to donor MHC antigens. Importantly, this blockade of tolerance was CD8+ T cell–dependent and required linked antigen presentation of alloantigens with the test OVA antigen. As such, this pathway represents an unapparent, or “incognito,” form of immunity that is sufficient to prevent tolerance and that can be an unforeseen additional immune barrier to clinical transplant tolerance.
The authors show that vaccine-generated memory CD8+ T cells without demonstrable cross-reactivity to donor MHC antigens can nevertheless disrupt allograft tolerance, if the vaccine-directed antigen is physically linked to donor-derived cells.