Donor circadian clock influences the long-term survival of heart transplantation by immunoregulation

Cardiovasc Res. 2023 Oct 16;119(12):2202-2212. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvad114.


Aims: Circadian clocks play important role in immunoregulation. We aimed to investigate cardiac circadian clock specific pathways and compare cardiac grafts procured at different timing on survival after transplantation to explore novel criteria for donor selection.

Methods and results: In primate heart, phase set enrichment analysis (PSEA) showed rhythmic transcripts were enriched in antigen processing and presentation during activation of circadian rhythm. Digital sorting of immune cell composition and single-sample gene set enrichment analysis (ssGSEA) in unused donor transcriptomes showed the pathway, positive regulation of circadian rhythm significantly correlates with allograft rejection and antigen presentation pathways as well as with increased compositions of matured dendritic cell, CD4+ T cell, and naive B cell. Single-centre retrospective cohort of 390 adult heart transplants between 1 January 2015 and 31 December 2020 was used to generate a propensity score matching (PSM) cohort. Survival curve differed significantly showing inferior long-term survival when donor hearts were procured at activation group (12 pm to 12 am) compared to repression group (12 am to 12 pm) (6-year survival: 64.2% vs. 75.8%, P = 0.0065). Activation group was also associated with significantly higher rates of in-hospital death, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and usage of mechanical circulatory support after heart transplantation compared to repression group. Furthermore, tendency for post-transplant free of rejection rates was higher in repression group compared to activation group (acute rejection, Gehan-Breslow P = 0.11 and 0.04; chronic rejection, Log rank P = 0.077 and 0.15, in full and PSM cohorts, respectively). Adjusted Cox regression analysis showed that activation group was associated with 2.20 times increased hazard of death (hazard ratio: 2.20; 95% confidence interval: 1.23-3.95; P = 0.008) compared to repression group.

Conclusions: Circadian immunity may represent donor-related risk factors for cardiac allograft rejection through activating genes related to antigen presentation pathway and immune cells oscillation at specific time of day. Molecular circadian clock should be considered during retrieval of cardiac allografts in order to maximize graft durability.

Keywords: Allograft rejection; Circadian rhythm; Heart transplantation; Propensity score matching; Survival.