Chronic rejection currently limits the long-term efficacy of clinical transplantation. Although B cells have recently been shown to play a pivotal role in the induction of alloimmunity and are being targeted in other transplant contexts, the efficacy of preemptive B cell depletion to modulate alloimmunity or attenuate cardiac allograft vasculopathy (CAV) (classic chronic rejection lesions found in transplanted hearts) in a translational model has not previously been described. We report here that the CD20-specific antibody (αCD20) rituximab depleted CD20+ B cells in peripheral blood, secondary lymphoid organs, and the graft in cynomolgus monkey recipients of heterotopic cardiac allografts. Furthermore, CD20+ B cell depletion therapy combined with the calcineurin inhibitor cyclosporine A (CsA) prolonged median primary graft survival relative to treatment with αCD20 or CsA alone. In animals treated with both αCD20 and CsA that achieved efficient B cell depletion, alloantibody production was substantially inhibited and the CAV severity score was markedly reduced. We conclude therefore that efficient preemptive depletion of CD20+ B cells is effective in a preclinical model to modulate pathogenic alloimmunity and to attenuate chronic rejection when used in conjunction with a conventional clinical immunosuppressant. This study suggests that use of this treatment combination may improve the efficacy of transplantation in the clinic.
Shahrooz S. Kelishadi, Agnes M. Azimzadeh, Tianshu Zhang, Tiffany Stoddard, Emily Welty, Christopher Avon, Mitch Higuchi, Amal Laaris, Xiang-Fei Cheng, Christine McMahon, Richard N. Pierson III