A comparison of fetal and adult porcine islets with regard to Gal alpha (1,3)Gal expression and the role of human immunoglobulins and complement in islet cell cytotoxicity

Transplantation. 2000 Apr 27;69(8):1711-7. doi: 10.1097/00007890-200004270-00030.


Background: It is still debated whether fetal or adult porcine islets should be the preferred choice for future clinical islet xenotransplantation. Each type of islet preparation has advantages and disadvantages compared with the other. Here we present a direct comparison between fetal and adult porcine islets with regard to Gal alpha(1,3)Gal expression, immunoglobulin and complement binding, and cytotoxicity after exposure to fresh human serum.

Method: Islet single cell suspensions were prepared from adult and fetal islets by trypsin digestion. Fluorescein isothiocyanate-conjugated Bandeiraea simplicifolia isolectin B4 (BS-IB4) and affinity-purified chicken anti-Gal alpha(1,3)Gal antibody was used to detect Gal alpha(1,3)Gal expression. Immunoglobulin and complement binding to the islet cells and cytotoxicity for islet cells was compared after incubation with fresh and heat-inactivated human sera and with an immune serum from a diabetic patient who received a fetal porcine islet transplant. Furthermore, two pools of human AB sera were depleted of porcine endothelial cell cytotoxic human anti-Gal alpha(1,3)Gal antibodies by absorption and were used to analyze the effect of Gal alpha(1,3)Gal antibody removal on islet cell cytotoxicity.

Results: Fetal islet cells readily bound both BS-IB4 and the chicken anti-Gal alpha(1,3)Gal antibody. None of 10 adult porcine islet preparations were stained by BS-IB4. In comparison, IgY anti-Gal Ab binding was detected in two of eight adult islet isolations, whereas the other six preparations showed marginal/no binding. After incubation of fetal islet cells with fresh human serum, C3c binding was strongly positive and IgM binding variable, with occasional binding of IgG and no detectable binding of IgA. Adult islet cells were also strongly positive for C3c but did not bind detectable amounts of IgM, IgG, or IgA. Immune sera from a patient who had received fetal porcine islets showed the presence of induced antibodies that bound to fetal islet cells and to porcine peripheral blood lymphocytes, whereas binding to adult islet cells was barely detectable. Fresh human sera showed a high and similar level of complement-mediated lytic activity for both adult islet cells (78+/-22%) and fetal islet cells (75+/-16%). Cytotoxicity for fetal islet cells and peripheral blood lymphocytes was significantly reduced when the corresponding sera were depleted of anti-Gal antibodies before use (P=0.002 and P=0.003, respectively). In contrast, no difference in cytotoxicity for adult islet cells was detected when anti-Gal-depleted human sera were used.

Conclusion: Gal alpha(1,3)Gal expression is occasionally detectable on adult porcine islet cells, but not as readily and at a lower level, compared with fetal islet cells. Thus, as porcine fetal islets mature to adult islets, the expression of the Gal alpha(1,3)Gal epitope gradually diminishes. Consequently, cytotoxic anti-Gal alpha(1,3)Gal antibodies in human serum play an important role in the lysis of fetal but not adult porcine islet cells.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Antibodies / immunology
  • Antibodies / pharmacology
  • Antibody-Dependent Cell Cytotoxicity
  • Blood Physiological Phenomena
  • Complement System Proteins / physiology*
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic*
  • Disaccharides / immunology
  • Disaccharides / metabolism*
  • Fetus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulins / physiology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / drug effects
  • Islets of Langerhans / embryology
  • Islets of Langerhans / immunology*
  • Islets of Langerhans / metabolism*
  • Swine / embryology


  • Antibodies
  • Disaccharides
  • Immunoglobulins
  • galactosyl-(1-3)galactose
  • Complement System Proteins