Development of an antibody specific to major histocompatibility antigens detectable by flow cytometry after lung transplant is associated with bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome

Scott M. Palmer, R. Duane Davis, Denis Hadjiliadis, Marshall I. Hertz, David N. Howell, Fran E. Ward, Kay Savik, Nancy L. Reinsmoen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

197 Scopus citations


Background. Chronic allograft rejection manifested as bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS) is the leading cause of late death after lung transplantation. Although increasing evidence suggests an association between anti-human leukocyte antigens (HLA) antibodies and chronic rejection of kidney or heart allografts, the clinical significance of anti-HLA antibodies in lung recipients is less clear, especially in previously unsensitized recipients. The use of flow cytometry based panel reactive antibody (flow-PRA) provides a highly sensitive means to identify the development of de novo anti-HLA antibodies in lung recipients. Methods. Flow-PRA testing was used to analyze the pre- and posttransplant sera in stable BOS free lung recipients who survived at least 6 months. Patients without prior sensitization as defined by a negative pretransplant flow-PRA were analyzed posttransplant for the presence of anti-HLA antibodies by flow-PRA. A proportional hazards model was used to determine the impact of anti-HLA antibody on BOS risk. Results. Sera from 90 recipients at Duke University with negative pretransplant flow-PRA were tested by flow-PRA at various time points after transplant. Sera from 11% (10/90) of recipients were found to contain anti-HLA antibodies detectable by flow-PRA. Nine patients (90%) developed anti-HLA antibodies specific for donor antigens, and one patient developed anti-HLA class II antibodies, not specific to donor antigens. Among the nine patients with donor antigen specific antibodies, flow-PRA specificity analysis demonstrated eight were specific for class II antigens and one for class I antigens. In a multivariate model that controls for other BOS risk factors, a positive post-transplant flow-PRA was significantly associated with BOS grades 1,2, or 3 (hazard ratios [HR] 3.19; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.41-7.12, P=0.005) and BOS grade 2 or 3 (HR 4.08; 95% CI: 1.66-10.04, P=0.002). Four patients with de novo anti-HLA antibodies died during follow-up; all four had BOS. Among BOS patients, the presence of anti-HLA antibodies was associated with a significantly worse survival (P=0.05, logrank test). Conclusions. Although uncommon, previously unsensitized lung transplant recipients can develop anti-HLA antibodies to donor class II antigens. The development of de novo anti-HLA antibodies significantly increases the risk for BOS, independent of other post-transplant events. Furthermore, de novo anti-HLA antibodies identify BOS patients with significantly worse survival. Additional studies are needed to determine if class II-directed anti-HLA antibodies contribute mechanistically to the chronic rejection process in lung recipients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)799-804
Number of pages6
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 27 2002


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