BACKGROUND: Chronic rejection of vascularized composite allografts (VCA) is an emerging phenomenon that may decrease long-term allograft survival and impair allograft function. Although intimal hyperplasia has been reported in human hand transplants, chronic changes in VCAs remain poorly described. METHODS: We developed a nonhuman primate model of face transplantation to evaluate the effect of various immunosuppressive regimens on allograft survival that we have previously reported. Nineteen grafts were successfully transplanted and serially biopsied to assess for rejection. Five VCA grafts with long-term survival (>200 days) were weaned off immunosuppression. We performed additional histologic and immunohistochemical studies on previously collected samples. RESULTS: All five grafts developed features consistent with chronic rejection, including neointimal proliferation, transplant vasculopathy, vessel wall fibrosis, progressive luminal occlusion, and tertiary lymphoid follicles. Review of 186 serial allograft skin and subcutaneous tissue biopsies revealed that tertiary follicles and vascular changes developed in the absence of acute skin rejection. No relationship was found between alloantibody production and these changes. CONCLUSIONS: Recognition of these characteristics of VCA chronic rejection is important for diagnosis in clinical hand and face transplantation. Studies directed towards minimizing VCA chronic rejection responses may be required to improve long-term outcomes.
- Chronic rejection
- Face transplantation
- Nonhuman primate
- Vascularized composite tissue allotransplantation
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