Background: Mixed xenogeneic bone marrow chimerism and tolerance can be induced in mice conditioned with a nonmyeloablative regimen followed by injection of T cell-depleted rat bone marrow cells. We hypothesized that, despite a gradual decline in rat hematopoiesis observed in these chimeras, as long as rat class II+ antigen-presenting cells remain in their thymi, tolerance will persist as a result of deletion of donor-reactive thymocytes.
Methods: The level of chimerism and of mouse Vbeta5 and Vbeta11 T-cell deletion was followed over time. These results were correlated with the presence of rat class II+ cells in the thymus by immunohistochemistry and the presence of tolerance in long-term chimeras by in vivo and in vitro assays.
Results: (1) Proliferation and cytotoxicity assays, as well as skin graft survival, demonstrated the presence of specific tolerance to host and to donor rat, with normal reactivity to third-party rat and mouse stimulators, even as late as 85 weeks after bone marrow transplantation. (2) The absence of mature Vbeta5+ and Vbeta11+ host T cells in the thymus and periphery was always associated with the presence of rat class II+ cells in the thymus, and incomplete deletion of T cells expressing these Vbeta families was observed in thymi in which rat class II+ cells were not detectable.
Conclusions: Donor-specific T-cell tolerance is maintained during the period when donor-type reconstitution declines, and is most likely mediated by intrathymic clonal deletion of T cells that recognize antigens expressed on class II+ rat cells.