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Biol Direct. 2007 Apr 16;2:10.

The ability of natural tolerance to be applied to allogeneic tissue: determinants and limits.

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Department of Surgery, Surgical-Medical Research Institute, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.



Transplant rejection has been considered to occur primarily because donor antigens are not present during the development of the recipient's immune system to induce tolerance. Thus, transplantation prior to recipient immune system development (pre-immunocompetence transplants) should induce natural tolerance to the donor. Surprisingly, tolerance was often not the outcome in such 'natural tolerance models'. We explored the ability of natural tolerance to prevent immune responses to alloantigens, and the reasons for the disparate outcomes of pre-immunocompetence transplants.


We found that internal transplants mismatched for a single minor-H antigen and 'healed-in' before immune system development were not ignored but instead induced natural tolerance. In contrast, multiple minor-H or MHC mismatched transplants did not consistently induce natural tolerance unless they carried chimerism generating passenger lymphocytes. To determine whether the systemic nature of passenger lymphocytes was required for their tolerizing capacity, we generated a model of localized vs. systemic donor lymphocytes. We identified the peritoneal cavity as a site that protects allogeneic lymphocytes from killing by NK cells, and found that systemic chimerism, but not chimerism restricted to the peritoneum, was capable of generating natural tolerance.


These data provide an explanation for the variable results with pre-immunocompetence transplants and suggest that natural tolerance to transplants is governed by the systemic vs. localized nature of donor antigen, the site of transplantation, and the antigenic disparity. Furthermore, in the absence of systemic lymphocyte chimerism the capacity to establish natural tolerance to allogeneic tissue appears strikingly limited.


This article was reviewed by Matthias von Herrath, Irun Cohen, and Wei-Ping Min (nominated by David Scott).

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