Background: Intestinal allograft rejection resembles Crohn's disease clinically and pathologically. An understanding of its mechanism could impact this life-saving procedure, as well as provide insight into the pathophysiology of inflammatory bowel disease. The NOD2 protein has been implicated as a key player in intestinal immune health, as a consequence of the discovery of three polymorphisms linked with Crohn's disease. An investigation was carried out to determine whether epithelial immune function and graft survival were influenced by NOD2 mutations in an intestinal transplant population. Methods: The NOD2 genotypes of 34 transplants performed consecutively over the past 3 years were determined. The NOD2 genotypes were related to clinical outcomes and the expression of certain intestinal antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) believed to protect the epithelium. Results: An unexpectedly high percentage of recipients, 35%, possessed NOD2 polymorphisms, while 8.6% of donors had comparable mutations. The likelihood of allograft failure was about 100-fold higher in recipients with mutant NOD2 alleles compared with recipients with wild-type NOD2 loci. Rejection in NOD2 mutant recipients was characterised by decreased expression of certain Paneth cell and enterocyte AMPs, prior to the onset of epithelial injury and inflammation. Conclusions: Crohn's disease-associated polymorphisms in the NOD2 gene in the recipient represent a critical immunological risk factor for intestinal allograft rejection. Compromised epithelial defences precede visible epithelial injury and inflammatory infiltration. The association of impaired epithelial immunity with the recipient's genotype suggests that certain NOD2-expressing cells of haematopoietic origin play a role in the process, perhaps by regulating expression of certain epithelial AMPs within the allograft.
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