BACKGROUND - Immune response to incompatible ABO antigens on allografts may result in rejection, accommodation, or immune tolerance. Our objective has been to develop a model for studying these three types of immune response to incompatible carbohydrate antigen in alpha1,3-galactosyltransferase knockout (KO) mice. KO mice lack the alpha-gal epitope and can produce the anti-Gal antibody against it after immunization with pig kidney membranes (PKM) that express this epitope.
METHODS - KO mice were transplanted with syngeneic wild-type (WT) heart expressing alpha-gal epitopes. Subsequently, the mice were lethally irradiated and received lymphocytes including memory anti-Gal B cells from PKM immunized KO mice. Immune response to incompatible alpha-gal epitopes on the graft was determined by transplanted-heart function and by production of anti-Gal after PKM immunizations.
RESULTS - Anti-Gal B cells exposed for 1 to 2 weeks to alpha-gal epitopes of WT hearts differentiate into cells producing noncytolytic accommodating antibodies. Exposure for longer periods (2-4 weeks) induces a transition from accommodation into tolerance, indicated by the inability of mice to produce anti-Gal antibodies despite repeated PKM immunizations. WT hearts in accommodating and in tolerized mice continue to function for months.
CONCLUSIONS - In the absence of T-cell help, anticarbohydrate B cells exposed to incompatible carbohydrate antigens of transplanted organs differentiate first into cells capable of producing accommodating antibodies, but, after prolonged exposure, these B cells gradually become tolerized. These findings suggest that prolonged T-cell suppression in recipients of ABO-incompatible allografts may result in a similar induction of tolerance to incompatible blood-group antigens.