Immunomodulatory Therapies for the Treatment of Graft-versus-host Disease

Hemasphere. 2021 Jun 1;5(6):e581. doi: 10.1097/HS9.0000000000000581. eCollection 2021 Jun.


Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (allo-HCT) is a potentially curative therapy for patients suffering from hematological malignancies, and its therapeutic success is based on the graft-versus-leukemia (GvL) effect. Severe acute and chronic graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) are life-threatening complications after allo-HCT. To date, most of the approved treatment strategies for GvHD rely on broadly immunosuppressive regimens, which limit the beneficial GvL effect by reducing the cytotoxicity of anti-leukemia donor T-cells. Therefore, novel therapeutic strategies that rely on immunomodulatory rather than only immunosuppressive effects could help to improve patient outcomes. Treatments should suppress severe GvHD while preserving anti-leukemia immunity. New treatment strategies include the blockade of T-cell activation via inhibition of dipeptidyl peptidase 4 and cluster of differentiation 28-mediated co-stimulation, reduction of proinflammatory interleukin (IL)-2, IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor-α signaling, as well as kinase inhibition. Janus kinase (JAK)1/2 inhibition acts directly on T-cells, but also renders antigen presenting cells more tolerogenic and blocks dendritic cell-mediated T-cell activation and proliferation. Extracorporeal photopheresis, hypomethylating agent application, and low-dose IL-2 are powerful approaches to render the immune response more tolerogenic by regulatory T-cell induction. The transfer of immunomodulatory and immunosuppressive cell populations, including mesenchymal stromal cells and regulatory T-cells, showed promising results in GvHD treatment. Novel experimental procedures are based on metabolic reprogramming of donor T-cells by reducing glycolysis, which is crucial for cytotoxic T-cell proliferation and activity.

Publication types

  • Review