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Complement activation is central to the rejection of discordant xenografts. In order to assess the respective roles of direct and alternative pathways, an in vitro model of hyperacute rejection in the swine-to-human donor-recipient combination was designed, using a complement-dependent cytotoxicity test with swine endothelial cells in culture as targets, and fresh human serum as the source of xenogeneic antibodies and complement. The cytotoxic activity of the sera was evaluated by a colorimetric assay using (3-[4,5-dimethyldiazol-2-yl]-2,5-diphenyl tetrazolium bromide (MTT).

Pure human serum lysed 58 pm 5% of swine endothelial cells. Selective inhibition of the direct pathway by adding EGTA to the serum reduced cytolysis to 51pm 2% (P<0.01 versus normal serum). Similarly, when using Clq-deficient human sera, only 37 pm 7% of swine endothelial cells were killed (P<0.001 versus normal serum).

When the alternative pathway was selectively inhibited by heating for 20 min at 50$dGC, the lytic activity of human serum dropped to 42 pm 5% (P<0.001 versus normal serum). Factor B-deficient human serum could only lyse 42 pm 10% of porcine endothelial cells (P<0.001 versus normal serum). Syngeneic normal swine serum and heat-inactivated serum were not cytotoxic.

Mixing serum with deficient direct pathway and serum with deficient alternative pathway restored the cytotoxicity to normal levels. Similarly, the cytotoxic activity of deficient serum supplemented with purified Clq or factor B at physiological concentrations reached that of normal human serum.

In this model of in vitro hyperacute rejection, both pathways of complement activation are involved, suggesting that regimens designed to inhibit hyperacute rejection of swine xenografts into humans should take into account the dual activation of complement in this donor-recipient combination.

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