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J Immunol. 2001 Aug 15;167(4):1891-9.

Role of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in allorecognition: lessons from corneal transplantation.

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Cellular and Molecular Immunology Laboratory, Schepens Eye Research Institute, Department of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Corneal transplantation represents an interesting model to investigate the contribution of direct vs indirect Ag recognition pathways to the alloresponse. Corneal allografts are naturally devoid of MHC class II+ APCs. In addition, minor Ag-mismatched corneal grafts are more readily rejected than their MHC-mismatched counterparts. Accordingly, it has been hypothesized that these transplants do not trigger direct T cell alloresponse, but that donor Ags are presented by host APCs, i.e., in an indirect fashion. Here, we have determined the Ag specificity, frequency, and phenotype of T cells activated through direct and indirect pathways in BALB/c mice transplanted orthotopically with fully allogeneic C57BL/6 corneas. In this combination, only 60% of the corneas are rejected, while the remainder enjoy indefinite graft survival. In rejecting mice the T cell response was mediated by two T cell subsets: 1) CD4+ T cells that recognize alloantigens exclusively through indirect pathway and secrete IL-2, and 2) IFN-gamma-producing CD8+ T cells recognizing donor MHC in a direct fashion. Surprisingly, CD8+ T cells activated directly were not required for graft rejection. In nonrejecting mice, no T cell responses were detected. Strikingly, peripheral sensitization to allogeneic MHC molecules in these mice induced acute rejection of corneal grafts. We conclude that only CD4+ T cells activated via indirect allorecognition have the ability to reject allogeneic corneal grafts. Although alloreactive CD8+ T cells are activated via the direct pathway, they are not fully competent and cannot contribute to the rejection unless they receive an additional signal provided by professional APCs in the periphery.

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