Image_4_The Role of the Immunological Synapse in Differential Effects of APC Subsets in Alloimmunization to Fresh, Non-stored RBCs.jpg

Background: Each year, over 5 million red blood cell (RBC) transfusions are administered to patients in the USA. Despite the therapeutic benefits of RBC transfusions, there are associated risks. RBC-specific alloantibodies may form in response to antigenic differences between RBC donors and recipients; these alloantibodies can be a problem as they may mediate hemolysis or pose barriers to future transfusion support. While there is currently no reliable way to predict which RBC recipients will make an alloantibody response, risk factors such as inflammation have been shown to correlate with increased rates of RBC alloimmunization. The underlying mechanisms behind how inflammation mediates alloantibody production are incompletely defined.

Methods: To assess erythrophagocytosis, mice were treated with PBS or inflammatory stimuli followed by a transfusion of allogeneic RBCs labeled with a lipophilic dye. At multiple time points, RBC consumption and expression of activation makers by leukocytes was evaluated. To determine which antigen presenting cell (APC) subset(s) were capable of promoting allogeneic T cell activation, sorted leukocyte populations (which had participated in erythrophagocytosis) were co-cultured in vitro with allogeneic CD4+ T cells; T cell proliferation and ability to form immunological synapses with APCs were determined.

Results: Upon transfusion of fresh allogeneic RBCs, multiple APCs consumed transfused RBCs. However, only CD8+ and CD11b+ dendritic cells formed productive immunological synapses with allogeneic T cells and stimulated proliferation. Importantly, allogeneic T cell activation and RBC alloantibody production occurred in response to RBC transfusion alone, and transfusion in the context of inflammation enhanced RBC consumption, the number of immune synapses, allogeneic T cell proliferation, and the rate and magnitude of alloantibody production.

Conclusions: These data demonstrate that regardless of the ability to participate in RBC consumption, only a subset of APCs are capable of forming an immune synapse with T cells thereby initiating an alloantibody response. Additionally, these data provide mechanistic insight into RBC alloantibody generation.