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J Heart Lung Transplant. 2002 Apr;21(4):474-84.

Histopathology of cardiac xenograft rejection in the pig-to-baboon model.

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Department of Histopathology, Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, United Kingdom.



The use of pig organs transgenic for human decay accelerating factor (hDAF) has largely overcome the problems of hyperacute rejection. With improved immunosuppressive protocols, life supporting grafts are showing greater survival times bringing the possibility of clinical xenotransplantation closer. Examination of the histopathology of the rejection process provides insight into the underlying mechanism and may suggest ways in which new immunosuppressive strategies should be directed.


44 baboons (Papio anubis) underwent heart transplants of which 39 were from transgenic donors. The transplanted organs were examined histologically and stained for evidence of immunoglobulin and complement deposition as well as cellular infiltrates.


In the transgenic animals survival times were 2 to 99 days (mean 23.5) and the heterotopic group and 1 to 39 days (mean 11.7) in the orthotopic group. There were 3 cases of hyperacute rejection between the 2 groups. Rejected organs showed areas of old and recent myocardial infarction associated with vascular thrombosis. There was widespread deposition within vessels of immunoglobulins IgM and IgG together with complement fractions C3 and C5b to 9 in those organs that were rejected. The amount of complement positive in the longer surviving organs was less than those rejecting early. Cellular infiltate was predominantly macrophage with some later appearing T or natural killer cells.


The histopathological changes support the importance of immunoglobulin and complement in delayed xenograft or acute vascular rejection. With time there is an increase in cellular infiltrate predominantly macrophages and these findings suggest an increasingly important role for the cells and the rejection process. The presence of areas of infarction and underlying vascular thrombosis is in keeping with endothelial activation and the establishment of procoagulant phenotype which may be due to immunoglobulin, complement, secreted cytokines and direct cellular effects.

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