Interferon-complement loop in transplant-associated thrombotic microangiopathy

Blood Adv. 2020 Mar 24;4(6):1166-1177. doi: 10.1182/bloodadvances.2020001515.


Transplant-associated thrombotic microangiopathy (TA-TMA) is an important cause of morbidity and mortality after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). The complement inhibitor eculizumab improves TA-TMA, but not all patients respond to therapy, prompting a search for additional targetable pathways of endothelial injury. TA-TMA is relatively common after HSCT and can serve as a model to study mechanisms of tissue injury in other thrombotic microangiopathies. In this work, we performed transcriptome analyses of peripheral blood mononuclear cells collected before HSCT, at onset of TA-TMA, and after resolution of TA-TMA in children with and without TA-TMA after HSCT. We observed significant upregulation of the classical, alternative, and lectin complement pathways during active TA-TMA. Essentially all upregulated genes and pathways returned to baseline expression levels at resolution of TA-TMA after eculizumab therapy, supporting the clinical practice of discontinuing complement blockade after resolution of TA-TMA. Further analysis of the global transcriptional regulatory network showed a notable interferon signature associated with TA-TMA with increased STAT1 and STAT2 signaling that resolved after complement blockade. In summary, we observed activation of multiple complement pathways in TA-TMA, in contrast to atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS), where complement activation occurs largely via the alternative pathway. Our data also suggest a key relationship between increased interferon signaling, complement activation, and TA-TMA. We propose a model of an "interferon-complement loop" that can perpetuate endothelial injury and thrombotic microangiopathy. These findings open opportunities to study novel complement blockers and combined anti-complement and anti-interferon therapies in patients with TA-TMA and other microangiopathies like aHUS and lupus-associated TMAs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural