Background: Recently, the use of megadoses of CD34+ hematopoietic progenitors has been reported to abrogate resistance to engraftment, thus overcoming major histocompatibility barriers in bone marrow transplantation in leukemia patients.
Methods: The ability of human CD34+ cells to possess potent tolerizing activity was studied by limiting dilution analysis of cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) precursors (CTL-p) in human peripheral blood lymphocytes after addition of purified CD34+ cells.
Results: The addition of purified human CD34+ cells to primary mixed lymphocyte culture led to a marked reduction of antiallogeneic CTL-p frequency against stimulator cells of the same origin, compared with the response against cells of third-party origin. The CD34+ cells caused a marked inhibition of the CTL activity, when added at an equal number with the responder T cells, and they were still present after the mixed lymphocyte culture, which suggests that no significant killing of CD34+ cells had occurred. The tolerizing activity is abrogated by irradiation and requires cell contact. This pattern of tolerization most closely resembles what has been ascribed to veto cells in other systems. Phenotypic analysis of the purified CD34+ cells showed that they express MHC class I and class II antigens, but do not express costimulatory molecules of the B7 family.
Conclusions: It is possible, that CD34+ cells in the megadose transplants-perhaps by their inability to provide costimulatory molecules-are actively reducing the frequency of CTL-p directed against their antigens, and thereby help to overcome allogeneic rejection, and enhance their own engraftment.