Organ transplantation's considerable benefit is significantly offset by the complications associated with its required chronic immunosuppressive therapy. Patients are usually on several medications, but calcineurin inhibitors (CNIs) have long formed the centerpiece of most regimens. CNIs effectively prevent rejection, but their use is associated with non-antigen-specific T cell suppression, consequent impaired protective immunity, and numerous non-immune side effects. This year, a CNI alternative has been approved: belatacept, a fusion protein that mediates CD28-B7 costimulation blockade (CoB). Substantial clinical evidence suggests that belatacept can serve as a CNI replacement, avoiding CNI-specific off-target side effects. However, belatacept appears less able to prevent rejection in certain scenarios, and to inhomogenously impair viral immunity, particularly towards the common Epstein - Barr virus. Thus, clinicians now have two distinct approaches to prevent transplant rejection, CNI- and CoB-based immunosuppression, but little data guiding a rational choice between them. This application approaches this highly contemporary dilemma in transplantation, the CNI/belatacept choice and its relationship to the reciprocal complications of rejection and viral infection. We hypothesize that rejection and viral infection are mechanisticall related through a process known as heterologous alloimmunity-alloimmunity matured by prior viral infection-and that the changes in T cell phenotype known to emerge throughout life and influence allo- and viral-immunity can be used to anticipate one's response to CNIs and CoB. We believe these phenotypic changes can be used to develop a biologically plausible, therapeutically relevant, and diagnostically definable means of segregating those patients who will benefit from a belatacept-based regimen from those better served by a CNI-based approach. We explore this hypothesis in three Specific Aims, one observational study in humans to define the extent to which viral infection and rejection relate to kidney transplant recipients'T cell differentiation and exhaustion in the context of CNI- or belatacept-based therapy, and two experimental projects performed using well-defined, clinically relevant, mouse models of transplantation and viral infection to establish the mechanisms determining CNI- and CoB-specific effects on allo- and viral-specific-immunity. The investigative team formed for this study is facile in using observations in transplant patients to inform the conduct of rigorously controlled animal studies, and in the use of novel animal experiments to modify human studies. It is centered in a high volume transplant center that has developed an outstanding infrastructure for the acquisition of well-characterized human samples, and exceptional exposure to patients undergoing CNI- and belatacept-based regimens. Thus, each aim will be conducted cognizant of both the relevant clinical circumstances and mechanistic principles. This study will facilitate development of a unifying paradigm to guide the rational selection of immunosuppressive agents, and facilitate individualized, data-driven, immunological management for transplant patients.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research is relevant to public health because it aims to conduct mechanistically driven studies to optimize the implementation of immunosuppression in general, and belatacept (costimulation blockade) in particular, as an alternative strategy to prevent rejection following organ transplantation. Proper selection of immunosuppression offers the potential to minimize patient morbidity and mortality, optimize allograft survival, minimize the risk of re-transplantation, and reduce the healthcare costs associated with end stage organ failure.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
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Transplantation, Tolerance, and Tumor Immunology (TTT)
Program Officer
Rice, Jeffrey S
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Emory University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Xu, He; Bendersky, Victoria A; Brennan, Todd V et al. (2018) IL-7 receptor heterogeneity as a mechanism for repertoire change during postdepletional homeostatic proliferation and its relation to costimulation blockade-resistant rejection. Am J Transplant 18:720-730
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