The initial contact point between a recipient's immune system and a transplanted graft is the vascular endothelium. Clinical studies suggest a pathogenic role for non-HLA antiendothelial cell antibodies (AECAs) in allograft rejection; however, evidence linking AECAs of known specificity to in vivo vascular injury is lacking. Here, we used high-density protein arrays to identify target antigens for AECAs isolated from the sera of recipients of kidney transplants experiencing antibody-mediated rejection in the absence of donor-specific HLA antibodies. Four antigenic targets expressed on endothelial cells were identified: endoglin, Fms-like tyrosine kinase-3 ligand, EGF-like repeats and discoidin I-like domains 3, and intercellular adhesion molecule 4; the first three have been implicated in endothelial cell activation and leukocyte extravasation. To validate these findings, ELISAs were constructed, and sera from an additional 150 renal recipients were tested. All four AECAs were detected in 24% of pretransplant sera, and they were associated with post-transplant donor-specific HLA antibodies, antibody-mediated rejection, and early transplant glomerulopathy. AECA stimulation of endothelial cell cultures increased adhesion molecule expression and production of inflammatory cytokines: regulated on activation, normal T cell expressed and secreted PDGF and RESISTIN. These correlations between in vitro experiments and in vivo histopathology suggest that AECAs activate the vascular endothelium, amplifying the alloimmune response and increasing microvascular damage. Given the growing number of transplant candidates, a better understanding of the antigenic targets, beyond HLA, and mechanisms of immune injury will be essential for improving long-term allograft survival.
ASJC Scopus subject areas