Long-term survival of human skin allografts in patients with immunosuppression

Plast Reconstr Surg. 2004 Apr 15;113(5):1347-54. doi: 10.1097/01.prs.0000112741.11726.91.


Severe burn patients lack adequate skin donor sites to resurface their burn wounds. Patients with severe burn injuries to areas such as an entire face are presently reconstructed with skin grafts that are inferior to normal facial skin. This study was designed in part to determine whether human skin allografts would survive, repopulate, and persist on patients with immunosuppression and after discontinuation of immunosuppression. Small split-thickness skin grafts were synchronously transplanted at the time of renal transplantation from six renal transplant donors to recipients. All six patients were immunosuppressed with the usual doses of renal transplant immunosuppressants (methylprednisolone, cyclosporine, prednisone, and azathioprine). The skin allografts were biopsied when rejection was suspected and at various intervals. Special histologic studies were performed on skin biopsy specimens. Class II DNA tissue typing was performed on transplanted and autogenous skin biopsy specimens of four patients. Fluorescent in situ hybridization was performed successfully on skin biopsies of four patients' transplanted skin and on two of these four patients' autogenous skin. All six human skin allografts sustained a 100 percent take and long-term clinical survival. DNA tissue typing performed on skin allograft biopsy specimens from patients taking immunosuppressants all revealed donor and recipient cells. DNA tissue typing performed on autogenous skin biopsies from the same patients all revealed only recipient cells. Fluorescent in situ hybridization performed on allograft and autogenous specimens from patients taking immunosuppressants revealed transplanted donor cells with rare recipient cells in the allograft and only recipient cells in the autogenous skin. This study of six patients proves that it is possible for human skin allografts to survive indefinitely on patients taking the usual dosages of immunosuppressants used for renal transplantation. There was minimal repopulation of skin allografts by autogenous keratinocytes and fibroblast while patients were taking immunosuppressants. Immunosuppression was discontinued in two patients after renal transplant rejection after 6 weeks and 5 years. When immunosuppression was discontinued after 5 years in one patient, the skin allograft cells were destroyed and replaced with autogenous cells, but the skin graft did not reject acutely and persisted clinically. It is hypothesized that the acellular portion of the skin allograft was not rejected acutely because of relatively low antigenicity and because it acted as a lattice for autogenous cells to migrate into and replace rejected allograft skin cells. No chimerism was seen in autogenous skin in the skin-renal transplant patients in this study.

MeSH terms

  • Burns / metabolism
  • Burns / surgery
  • Female
  • Graft Rejection
  • Graft Survival / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Male
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin Transplantation / immunology*
  • Transplantation, Homologous


  • Immunosuppressive Agents