Transplantation is unusual in that T cells can recognize alloantigen by at least two distinct pathways: as intact MHC alloantigen on the surface of donor cells via the direct pathway; and as self-restricted processed alloantigen via the indirect pathway. Direct pathway responses are viewed as strong but short-lived and hence responsible for acute rejection, whereas indirect pathway responses are typically thought to be much longer lasting and mediate the progression of chronic rejection. However, this is based on surprisingly scant experimental evidence, and the recent demonstration that MHC alloantigen can be re-presented intact on recipient dendritic cells-the semi-direct pathway-suggests that the conventional view may be an oversimplification. We review recent advances in our understanding of how the different T cell allorecognition pathways are triggered, consider how this generates effector alloantibody and cytotoxic CD8 T cell alloresponses and assess how these responses contribute to early and late allograft rejection. We further discuss how this knowledge may inform development of cellular and pharmacological therapies that aim to improve transplant outcomes, with focus on the use of induced regulatory T cells with indirect allospecificity and on the development of immunometabolic strategies. KEY POINTS Acute allograft rejection is likely mediated by indirect and direct pathway CD4 T cell alloresponses.Chronic allograft rejection is largely mediated by indirect pathway CD4 T cell responses. Direct pathway recognition of cross-dressed endothelial derived MHC class II alloantigen may also contribute to chronic rejection, but the extent of this contribution is unknown.Late indirect pathway CD4 T cell responses will be composed of heterogeneous populations of allopeptide specific T helper cell subsets that recognize different alloantigens and are at various stages of effector and memory differentiation.Knowledge of the precise indirect pathway CD4 T cell responses active at late time points in a particular individual will likely inform the development of alloantigen-specific cellular therapies and will guide immunometabolic modulation.
Keywords: T cell allorecognition; T follicular helper cell; chronic allograft vasculopathy; cytotoxic CD8 T cells; exhaustion; germinal center; indirect presentation; transplantation.