The potential of adoptive cell therapy with regulatory T cells (Tregs) to promote transplant tolerance is under active exploration. However, the impact of specific transplant settings and protocols on Treg manufacturing is not well-delineated. Here, we compared the use of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from patients before or after liver transplantation to the use of healthy control PBMCs to determine their suitability for Treg manufacture using ex vivo costimulatory blockade with belatacept. Despite liver failure or immunosuppressive therapy, the capacity for Treg expansion during the manufacturing process was preserved. These experiments did not identify performance or quality issues that disqualified the use of posttransplant PBMCs-the currently favored protocol design. However, as Treg input correlated with output, significant CD4-lymphopenia in both pre- and posttransplant patients limited Treg yield. We therefore turned to leukapheresis posttransplant to improve absolute yield. To make deceased donor use feasible, we also developed protocols to substitute splenocytes for PBMCs as allostimulators. In addition to demonstrating that this Treg expansion strategy works in a liver transplant context, this preclinical study illustrates how characterizing cellular input populations and their performance can both inform and respond to clinical trial design and Treg manufacturing requirements.
Keywords: T cell biology; costimulation; hepatology; immune modulation; immunosuppressant - fusion proteins and monoclonal antibodies: belatacept; immunosuppression; liver transplantation; tolerance; translational research.
© 2021 The American Society of Transplantation and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons.