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Am J Transplant. 2012 Mar;12(3):576-89. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-6143.2011.03879.x. Epub 2011 Dec 17.

Fates of CD4+ T cells in a tolerant environment depend on timing and place of antigen exposure.

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  • 1Center for Vascular and Inflammatory Diseases, Department of Surgery, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA.


In experimental organ transplantation, tolerance is induced by administration of anti-CD40L mAb in conjunction with donor-specific splenocyte transfusion. Multiple, sometimes conflicting mechanisms of action resulting from this treatment have been reported. To resolve these issues, this study assessed the fates of graft reactive cells at different times and locations in the tolerant environment. Alloantigen-specific CD4(+) T cells transferred at time of tolerance induction (7 days before transplantation) became activated, expressed CD69 and CD44, and proliferated. Importantly, a large subset of this population became Foxp3(+) , more so in the lymph nodes than spleen, indicative of differentiation to a regulatory phenotype. In contrast, graft reactive CD4(+) T cells transferred to tolerogen-treated recipients at the time of transplantation failed either to proliferate or to differentiate, and instead were deleted via apoptosis. In untreated rejecting recipients graft reactive CD4(+) T cells became activated, proliferated and differentiated mainly in the spleen, and many of these cells were eventually deleted. These data resolve many apparent contradictions in the literature by showing that the timing of antigen exposure, the immunologic status of the recipients and secondary lymphoid organ location act together as key factors to determine the fate of graft reactive CD4(+) T cells.

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