Donor CD4+ T-cell production of tumor necrosis factor alpha significantly contributes to the early proinflammatory events of graft-versus-host disease

Patricia Ewing, Sandra Miklos, Krystyna M Olkiewicz, Gunnar Müller, Reinhard Andreesen, Ernst Holler, Kenneth R Cooke, Gerhard C Hildebrandt
Experimental Hematology 2007, 35 (1): 155-63

OBJECTIVE: Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha) is an old foe in allogeneic bone marrow transplantation (allo-BMT) promoting acute graft-versus-host disease (aGVHD). We investigated to what extent donor T cells contribute to TNFalpha production.

METHODS: Lethally irradiated B6D2F1 mice were transplanted with bone marrow (BM) and T cells from syngeneic B6D2F1 or allogeneic B6 donors and assessed for cytokine production, aGVHD, and survival.

RESULTS: Analysis of serum TNFalpha kinetics in recipients of allogeneic B6 wild-type BM and wild-type T cells revealed that TNFalpha levels peaked around day 7 after allo-BMT, whereas TNFalpha was undetectable in syngeneic controls. TNFalpha was produced by both host and donor cells. Further exploration showed that specifically donor CD4(+) but not CD8(+) T cells were the primary donor cell source of TNFalpha at this early time point; numbers of TNFalpha expressing splenic CD4(+) T cells were higher than CD8(+) T cells 7 days after allo-BMT, and maximal serum TNFalpha levels were detected following allo-BMT with only CD4(+) T cells compared to levels found in allogeneic recipients of only wild-type CD8(+) or to only CD4(+) TNFalpha(-/-) T cells. Concurrent with increased TNFalpha levels, early clinical aGVHD and mortality were more severe following allo-BMT with either wild-type CD4(+) and CD8(+) or CD4(+) T cells only.

CONCLUSION: Our data demonstrate that in addition to residual host cells donor CD4(+) T cells significantly contribute to the proinflammatory cytokine milieu engendered early after allo-BMT through the production of TNFalpha. These findings support strategies focusing on TNFalpha neutralization as primary treatment for aGVHD.

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