T-cell receptor (TCR)-transgenic models of acute graft-versus-host disease (aGvHD) offer a straightforward and highly controlled approach to study the mechanisms and consequences of T-cell activation following allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (aHSCT). Here, we report that aHSCT involving OT-I mice as donors, carrying an ovalbumin-specific CD8+ TCR, and Act-mOVA mice as recipients, expressing membrane-bound ovalbumin driven by the β-actin promoter, induces lethal aGvHD in a CD8+ T-cell-dependent, highly reproducible manner, within 4-7 days. Tracking of UBC-GFP/OT-I graft CD8+ T cells disclosed heavy infiltration of the gastrointestinal tract, liver, and lungs at the onset of the disease, and histology confirmed hallmark features of gastrointestinal aGVHD, hepatic aGvHD, and aGvHD-associated lymphocytic bronchitis in infiltrated organs. However, T-cell infiltration was virtually absent in the skin, a key target organ of human aGvHD, and histology confirmed the absence of cutaneous aGVHD, as well. We show that the model allows studying CD8+ T-cell responses in situ, as selective recovery of graft CD45.1/OT-I CD8+ T cells from target organs is simple and feasible by automated tissue dissociation and subsequent cell sorting. Assessment of interferon-gamma production by flow cytometry, granzyme-B release by ELISA, TREC assay, and whole-genome gene expression profiling confirmed that isolated graft CD8+ T cells remained intact, underwent clonal expansion, and exerted effector functions in all affected tissues. Taken together, these data demonstrate that the OT-I/Act-mOVA model is suitable to study the CD8+ T-cell-mediated effector mechanisms in a disease closely resembling fatal human gastrointestinal and hepatic aGVHD that may develop after aHSCT using HLA-matched unrelated donors.
Keywords: CAG-OVA; Cytotoxic T cell; Experimental model; Homing.