Background: In kidney transplants operational tolerance has been associated with up-regulation of B cell differentiation genes and an increased number of total, naive and transitional peripheral B cells. The aim is to evaluate tolerance biomarkers in different cohorts of stable renal transplants under immunosuppression.
Methods: This is a cross-sectional study conducted in renal transplants. We evaluate genetic tolerance signature and lymphocyte subsets in stable transplants treated with calcineurin inhibitors (CNI) at 1 (n=15), 5 (n=14) and 10 (n=16) years, and azathioprine-treated transplants followed 30 years (n=8). Healthy volunteers (n=10) and patients with chronic rejection (n=15) served as controls.
Results: We confirm that peripheral expression of IGKV1D-13 and IGKV4-1 genes by RT-PCR distinguish tolerant (n=10) from stable transplants (n=10) provided by the International Tolerance Network. Tolerance signature was defined as the lowest expression for both genes in tolerant patients. In CNI-treated patients, genetic signature of tolerance and B cells showed a time-dependent increase not observed in azathioprine-treated patients (p<0.01). Genetic tolerance signature was observed in 0% at 1, 7% at 5 and 25% at 10-years while it was not observed in azathioprine-treated and chronic rejection patients. Fifteen out of 16 CNI-treated transplants at 10 years were revaluated 3 months apart. Nine did not show the tolerance signature in any determination, 4 in one and 2 in both determinations. Genetic signature of tolerance was associated with an increase of total, naive and transitional B cells (p<0.05).
Conclusions: IGKV1D-13 and IGKV4-1 gene expression and its linked B cell populations increase during follow up in CNI-treated patients. At 10 years, 2 out of 15 CNI treated patients consistently express biomarkers associated with true tolerance. In azathioprine-treated patients these biomarkers were down-regulated.
Keywords: B cells; Chronic rejection; Immunosuppression; Lymphocyte subpopulations; Operational tolerance; Renal transplantation.
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