The role of NKT cells following solid organ transplantation

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Mary Gieschen-Krische

Abstract

Introduction: NKT cells are categorised as borderline between NK and T cells, sharing phenotypic and functional characteristics of both cells, demonstrating their capacity to contritube to both pro- or anti-inflammatory processes. However, the role of these cells among lung transplant recipients remains largely unknown. The aim of this study was to determine the role of NKT cells following lung transplantation. Methods: NKT cells were quantified and characterised according to markers of: activation (CD107a, CD161, NKG2D) and immunomodulation (CD200 and CD200R) in peripheral blood and BALs. NKT cell numbers and phenotypes were correlated to clinical variables: immunosuppression, acute rejection, acute infections (viral, bacterial and fungal), bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS grade), lung function, and demographic variables. Interactions between NKT cells and the transplanted lung were linked by determining the relative expression of immunomodulatory ligand CD200 in lung biopsies. In vitro models were employed to determine the role of NKT cells to acute lung injury, either alone or in combination with cells of the mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS). Results: Higher numbers of immunomodulatory NKT cells (CD200+ and CD200R+) were found as lung function decreased. Data from peripheral blood indicates that recipients whose donors or themselves had been exposed to CMV infection demonstrated increased numbers of NKT cells. Patients with active EBV infections demonstrated higher NKT cell numbers expressing CD200 and CD200R. Data from BALs, indicates that patients with active fungal infections present higher immunomodulatory (CD200R) NKT cells and lower cytotoxicity marker (CD107a). In peripheral blood, lung recipients demonstrated higher NKT cell numbers compared to healthy volunteers. However, the lower relative mean expression of functional markers in the lung transplant group suggests that cells are less active. In vitro cultures with immunosuppressants demonstrated that cell cycle inhibitors (MMF and AZA) and corticosteroids (Prednisolone) are likely to inhibit NKT cell proliferation, while calcineurin inhibitors (Cyclosporine A and Tacrolimus) decrease the relative mean expression of activation markers. Clinical observations indicate that higher doses of Azathioprine may correlate with increased NKT cell numbers and the relative expression of CD200 and CD200R. However, under these conditions the relative expression of activation marker NKG2D decreases. In vitro data from the acute injury model indicates that NKT cells are capable to migrate into the injured lung and become activated following transmigration which is facilitated by the presence of monocytes. We also observed the interaction of NKT cells with endothelial cells, monocytes and macrophages. Also, the relative mean expression of CD200 and CD200R increased at the capillary layer, regardless of injury while upregulation of activation markers (CD107a, CD161 and NKG2D) was found at the capillary layer, following injury. In contrast, the alveolar layer demonstrated a decrease in both activation and immunomodulatory markers, following acute injury. Conclusions: Despite immunosuppression, NKT cells remain present in peripheral blood and BAL following lung transplantation. NKT cell proliferation is likely to be reduced by effect of cell cycle inhibitors, while calcineurin inhibitors exert an immunomodulatory effect. Our data indicates that NKT cells can participate in inflammatory and immunomodulatory events at the alveolar bilayer. Their capacity to infiltrate the lungs was assisted by cells of the mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS), which play an important role in antigen presentation and modulation of acute injury. Further research is needed to elucidate the signals and mechanisms occurring between NKT and MPS interactions and the outcomes these populations drive in acute lung injury.

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Original languageEnglish
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Award date31 Dec 2014