Memory T cells in transplantation: generation, function, and potential role in rejection

Am J Transplant. 2004 Jun;4(6):846-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-6143.2004.00453.x.


The adaptive immune system is endowed with long-lived memory to recall previous antigen encounters and respond more effectively to them. Memory immune responses are mediated by antigen-specific memory T lymphocytes that exhibit enhanced function compared with naïve T cells that have never encountered antigen. While the generation of memory T cells specific for pathogens is beneficial in providing protective immunity, memory T cells specific for alloantigens can be deleterious to the recipient of a transplanted organ. In graft rejection, memory T cells mediate accelerated, "second-set" rejection and their presence has been associated with increased propensity for early rejection. Recent findings have demonstrated that alloreactive memory T cells can be generated via exposure to alloantigens, as well as stimuli that are cross-reactive with alloantigens, and are therefore likely present in "naïve" individuals. This review focuses on the characteristics of memory T cells which make them of special interest to the transplant community, including differential activation requirements, broad homing properties, and resistance to tolerance induction. The multiple ways in which memory T cells can contribute to early and late graft rejection are discussed, as well as potential targets for combating alloreactive memory to be considered in the future design of tolerance induction strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Graft Rejection / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory / physiology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Transplantation Immunology / physiology*
  • Transplantation Tolerance / immunology