Gene Expression Profiling for the Identification and Classification of Antibody-Mediated Heart Rejection

Circulation. 2017 Mar 7;135(10):917-935. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.116.022907. Epub 2017 Feb 1.


Background: Antibody-mediated rejection (AMR) contributes to heart allograft loss. However, an important knowledge gap remains in terms of the pathophysiology of AMR and how detection of immune activity, injury degree, and stage could be improved by intragraft gene expression profiling.

Methods: We prospectively monitored 617 heart transplant recipients referred from 4 French transplant centers (January 1, 2006-January 1, 2011) for AMR. We compared patients with AMR (n=55) with a matched control group of 55 patients without AMR. We characterized all patients using histopathology (ISHLT [International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation] 2013 grades), immunostaining, and circulating anti-HLA donor-specific antibodies at the time of biopsy, together with systematic gene expression assessments of the allograft tissue, using microarrays. Effector cells were evaluated with in vitro human cell cultures. We studied a validation cohort of 98 heart recipients transplanted in Edmonton, AB, Canada, including 27 cases of AMR and 71 controls.

Results: A total of 240 heart transplant endomyocardial biopsies were assessed. AMR showed a distinct pattern of injury characterized by endothelial activation with microcirculatory inflammation by monocytes/macrophages and natural killer (NK) cells. We also observed selective changes in endothelial/angiogenesis and NK cell transcripts, including CD16A signaling and interferon-γ-inducible genes. The AMR-selective gene sets accurately discriminated patients with AMR from those without and included NK transcripts (area under the curve=0.87), endothelial activation transcripts (area under the curve=0.80), macrophage transcripts (area under the curve=0.86), and interferon-γ transcripts (area under the curve=0.84; P<0.0001 for all comparisons). These 4 gene sets showed increased expression with increasing pathological AMR (pAMR) International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation grade (P<0.001) and association with donor-specific antibody levels. The unsupervised principal components analysis demonstrated a high proportion of molecularly inactive pAMR1(I+), and there was significant molecular overlap between pAMR1(H+) and full-blown pAMR2/3 cases. Endothelial activation transcripts, interferon-γ, and NK transcripts showed association with chronic allograft vasculopathy. The molecular architecture and selective AMR transcripts, together with gene set discrimination capacity for AMR identified in the discovery set, were reproduced in the validation cohort.

Conclusions: Tissue-based measurements of specific pathogenesis-based transcripts reflecting NK burden, endothelial activation, macrophage burden, and interferon-γ effects accurately classify AMR and correlate with degree of injury and disease activity. This study illustrates the clinical potential of a tissue-based analysis of gene transcripts to refine diagnosis of heart transplant rejection.

Keywords: genetics; microarray analysis; transplantation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies / blood
  • Antibodies / immunology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Graft Rejection / diagnosis*
  • Graft Rejection / metabolism
  • Graft Rejection / pathology
  • HLA Antigens / immunology*
  • Heart Transplantation
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / genetics
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Killer Cells, Natural / cytology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardium / metabolism
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Receptors, IgG / genetics
  • Receptors, IgG / metabolism
  • Transplantation, Homologous


  • Antibodies
  • FCGR3A protein, human
  • HLA Antigens
  • Receptors, IgG
  • Interferon-gamma