Although it is known that eosinophils consistently infiltrate rejecting human liver allografts, their function is unknown. Infiltrating eosinophils can release a cytotoxic substance, eosinophil cationic protein. Furthermore, eosinophil cationic protein may be identified in biopsy specimens using immunoperoxidase staining of an eosinophil cationic protein-specific monoclonal antibody.
To study a possible effector role of eosinophils in rejecting liver allografts, 38 serial allograft biopsy specimens from 12 patients with acute rejection, 54 biopsy specimens from 11 patients with allograft dysfunction caused by other causes and 22 biopsy specimens from 8 patients without allograft dysfunction were stained for extracellular eosinophil cationic protein. In addition, the absolute blood eosinophil counts and the portal tract eosinophil percent of the total number of portal tract inflammatory cells were tabulated in these patients until 30 days after transplantation.
The blood absolute eosinophil count, portal tract eosinophil percent and incidence of positive extracellular eosinophil cationic protein staining were significantly increased in patients with rejection compared with patients with dysfunction from other causes (p < 0.05 to 0.005, t test). Furthermore, each of these parameters predicted rejection with excellent sensitivity (75% to 92%) and specificity (91% to 100%). Of patients with rejection, 59% had significant elevation of all three parameters before or during rejection, and 92% had at least two parameters elevated. Conversely, of the patients with dysfunction from other causes, 0% had elevations of any parameter.
The recognized cytotoxic properties of eosinophil cationic protein and its almost exclusive presence, along with eosinophils in the blood and allograft biopsy specimens of patients during acute rejection, support the role of the eosinophil as an effector cell in tissue injury during acute liver allograft rejection. (HEPATOLOGY 1991;13:1117–1125.)