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Xenotransplantation. 2009 May-Jun;16(3):135-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-3089.2009.00524.x.

Natural killer T cell facilitated engraftment of rat skin but not islet xenografts in mice.

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Department of Biology, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, 1601 East Market Street, Greensboro, NC 27411, USA.



We have studied cellular components required for xenograft survival mediated by anti-CD154 monoclonal antibody (mAb) and a transfusion of donor spleen cells and found that the elimination of CD4(+) but not CD8(+) cells significantly improves graft survival. A contribution of other cellular components, such as natural killer (NK) cells and natural killer T (NKT) cells, for costimulation blockade-induced xenograft survival has not been clearly defined. We therefore tested the hypothesis that NK or NKT cells would promote rat islet and skin xenograft acceptance in mice.


Lewis rat islets or skin was transplanted into wild type B6 mice or into B6 mice that were Jalpha18(null), CD1(null), or beta2 microglobulin (beta2M)(null) NK 1.1 depleted, or perforin(null). Graft recipients were pretreated with an infusion of donor derived spleen cells and a brief course of anti-CD154 mAb treatments. Additional groups received mAb or cells only.


We first observed that the depletion of NK1.1 cells does not significantly interfere with graft survival in C57BL/6 (B6) mice. We used NKT cell deficient B6 mice to test the hypothesis that NKT cells are involved in islet and skin xenograft survival in our model. These mice bear a null mutation in the gene for the Jalpha18 component of the T-cell receptor. The component is uniquely associated with NKT cells. We found no difference in islet xenograft survival between Jalpha18(null) and wild type B6 mice. In contrast, median skin graft survival appeared shorter in Jalpha18(null) recipients. These data imply a role for Jalpha18(+) NKT cells in skin xenograft survival in treated mice. In order to confirm this inference, we tested skin xenograft survival in B6 CD1(null) mice because NKT cells are CD1 restricted. Results of these trials demonstrate that the absence of CD1(+) cells adversely affects rat skin graft survival. An additional assay in beta2M(null) mice demonstrated a requirement for major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I expression in the graft host, and we demonstrate that CD1 is the requisite MHC component. We further demonstrated that, unlike reports for allograft survival, skin xenograft survival does not require perforin-secreting NK cells.


We conclude that MHC class I(+) CD1(+) Jalpha18(+) NKT cells promote the survival of rat skin but not rat islet xenografts. These studies implicate different mechanisms for inducing and maintaining islet vs. skin xenograft survival in mice treated with donor antigen and anti-CD154 mAb, and further indicate a role for NKT cells but not NK cells in skin xenograft survival.

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