Comparative analysis of post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorders after solid organ and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation reveals differences in the tumor microenvironment

Virchows Arch. 2021 Jun;478(6):1135-1148. doi: 10.1007/s00428-020-02985-4. Epub 2020 Dec 15.


Post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorders (PTLD) occur after solid organ transplantation (SOT) or hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HCT) and are frequently associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Because of the complex immune setup in PTLD patients, the tumor microenvironment (TME) is of particular interest to understand PTLD pathogenesis and elucidate predictive factors and possible treatment options. We present a comparative study of clinicopathological features of 48 PTLD after HCT (n = 26) or SOT (n = 22), including non-destructive (n = 6), polymorphic (n = 23), and monomorphic (n = 18) PTLD and classic Hodgkin lymphoma (n = 1). EBV was positive in 35 cases (73%). A detailed examination of the TME with image analysis-based quantification in 22 cases revealed an inflammatory TME despite underlying immunosuppression and significant differences in its density and composition depending on type of transplant, PTLD subtypes, and EBV status. Tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) expressing CD163 (p = 0.0022) and Mannose (p = 0.0016) were enriched in PTLD after HCT. Double stains also showed differences in macrophage polarization, with more frequent M1 polarization after HCT (p = 0.0321). Higher counts for TAMs (CD163 (p = 0.0008) and cMaf (p = 0.0035)) as well as in the T cell compartment (Granzyme B (p = 0.0028), CD8 (p = 0.01), and for PD-L1 (p = 0.0305)) were observed depending on EBV status. In conclusion, despite the presence of immunosuppression, PTLD predominantly contains an inflammatory TME characterized by mostly M1-polarized macrophages and cytotoxic T cells. Status post HCT, EBV positivity, and polymorphic subtype are associated with an actively inflamed TME, indicating a specific response of the immune system. Further studies need to elucidate prognostic significance and potential therapeutic implications of the TME in PTLD.

Keywords: Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation; Macrophages; Microenvironment; Post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease; Solid organ transplantation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / complications*
  • Epstein-Barr Virus Infections / virology
  • Female
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation / adverse effects
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lymphoproliferative Disorders / pathology
  • Lymphoproliferative Disorders / virology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Transplantation, Homologous / adverse effects*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / physiology*
  • Young Adult