Major histocompatibility complex antigens in human liver transplants

J Hepatol. 1990 Jul;11(1):9-15. doi: 10.1016/0168-8278(90)90264-r.


Liver transplantation is performed successfully across major HLA differences between donor and recipient. This may be influenced by the organ specific expression of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules which determine the local immune reactivity and rejection response. The tissue expression of MHC molecules on parenchymal and infiltrating cells has been studied in transplanted human liver using monoclonal antibodies and immunohistological methods. A strong induction of class I (HLA-A,B,C; beta 2-microglobulin) and class II (HLA-DR,DQ,DP) MHC antigens was demonstrated on hepatocytes, bile duct epithelium and endothelial cells during rejection episodes and viral and bacterial infections. The massive induction of donor antigens on hepatocytes, bile ducts and endothelia forms part of, and may also augment, the rejection response. During quiescent states without infection or rejection after transplantation, however, a rather restricted expression of class I and class II donor MHC antigens is present. In addition, the donor Kupffer cells and interstitial dendritic cells are gradually replaced by recipient accessory cells expressing self-MHC molecules. The changes in antigen density and distribution of donor MHC alloantigens as the replacement of accessory cells capable of presenting antigens to T-lymphocytes may influence the course of immune reactivity and the rejection response in the liver. This may partly explain the favourable clinical course long after transplantation. Preliminary clinical investigations of the effect of HLA matching have shown a dualistic effect of the matching of class I or class II HLA antigens. The role of HLA matching in liver transplants in large clinical studies, with specific immunological testing however, remains to be investigated. This may lead to prospective HLA matching with wider organ availability and improved preservation time in the future.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • HLA Antigens / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Liver Transplantation / immunology*
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex / immunology*


  • HLA Antigens