Myelopoiesis is invariably present and contributes to pathology in animal models of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). In humans, a rich inflammatory infiltrate bearing macrophage markers has also been described in histological studies. In order to determine the origin, functional properties, and role in pathogenesis of these cells, we isolated single-cell suspensions from acute cutaneous GVHD and subjected them to genotype, transcriptome, and in vitro functional analysis. A donor-derived population of CD11c+CD14+ cells was the dominant population of all leukocytes in GVHD. Surface phenotype and NanoString gene expression profiling indicated the closest steady-state counterpart of these cells to be monocyte-derived macrophages. In GVHD, however, there was upregulation of monocyte antigens SIRPα and S100A8/9 transcripts associated with leukocyte trafficking, pattern recognition, antigen presentation, and costimulation. Isolated GVHD macrophages stimulated greater proliferation and activation of allogeneic T cells and secreted higher levels of inflammatory cytokines than their steady-state counterparts. In HLA-matched mixed leukocyte reactions, we also observed differentiation of activated macrophages with a similar phenotype. These exhibited cytopathicity to a keratinocyte cell line and mediated pathological damage to skin explants independently of T cells. Together, these results define the origin, functional properties, and potential pathogenic roles of human GVHD macrophages.
Keywords: Bone marrow transplantation; Immunology; Macrophages; Stem cell transplantation; Transplantation.