NK-cell-dependent acute xenograft rejection in the mouse heart-to-rat model


Address reprint requests to A. Dorling, Department of Immunology, Imperial College London, Hammersmith Hospital, Du Cane Road, London W12 0NN, UK (E-mail: a.dorling@imperial.ac.uk)


Abstract:  Background:  Acute humoral xenograft rejection is characterized by widespread intravascular thrombosis with a significant NK-cell and macrophage infiltrate. Although in vitro and ex vivo data have shown that NK cells are capable of killing xenogeneic tissue, the precise role they play in vivo is still not certain. Consequently, there are few tested strategies for dealing with NK-cell-mediated rejection, should this prove to be a problem. One reason for this has been the lack of a relevant rodent model in which rejection by these cells can be easily studied.

Methods:  Prior to transplantation of mouse hearts, we depleted rat recipients of fibrinogen using a snake venom, ANCROD, from the Malayan pit viper. Graft survival was examined by manual palpation and the rejected hearts were examined by histology. Levels of circulating interferon gamma (IFN-γ), used as a surrogate marker for NK-cell activation, were determined by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.

Results:  Depletion of fibrinogen to approximately 5% of normal allowed surgery without a significant increase in the technical failure rates and prolonged graft survival compared with that seen in unmanipulated rats. Rejected hearts showed no evidence of intravascular thrombosis but did show significant antibody and complement deposition. There was little T-cell infiltration and cyclosporin had no influence on survival. Instead, hearts were infiltrated with NK cells and macrophages and rejection was associated with significant IFN-γ production. Depletion of NK cells with anti-asialo-GM-1 from ANCROD-treated recipients led to a further significant prolongation of graft survival.

Conclusions:  Inhibition of intravascular thrombosis by fibrinogen depletion, in the absence of any other manipulation, unmasks NK-cell-dependent acute xenograft rejection in the mouse-to-rat heart transplantation model. This relatively simple model is expected to be useful to investigate the mechanisms of NK-cell-mediated rejection and to provide insight into the types of graft manipulation that could modify this process.