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posted on 27.02.2018, 04:09 by Peter van Balen, Boris van der Zouwen, Alwine B. Kruisselbrink, Matthijs Eefting, Karoly Szuhai, Ekaterina S. Jordanova, J. H. F. Falkenburg, Inge Jedema

Conditioning regimens preceding allogeneic stem cell transplantation (alloSCT) can cause tissue damage and acceleration of the development of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). T-cell-depleted alloSCT with postponed donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI) may reduce GVHD, because tissue injury can be restored at the time of DLI. In this study, we investigated the presence of tissue injury and inflammation in skin during the period of hematologic recovery and immune reconstitution after alloSCT.


Skin biopsies were immunohistochemically stained for HLA class II, CD1a, CD11c, CD40, CD54, CD68, CD86, CD206, CD3, and CD8. HLA class II-expressing cells were characterized as activated T-cells, antigen-presenting cells (APCs), or tissue repairing macrophages. In sex-mismatched patient and donor couples, origin of cells was determined by multiplex analysis combining XY-FISH and fluorescent immunohistochemistry.


No inflammatory environment due to pretransplant conditioning was detected at the time of alloSCT, irrespective of the conditioning regimen. An increase in HLA class II-positive macrophages and CD3 T-cells was observed 12–24 weeks after myeloablative alloSCT, but these macrophages did not show signs of interaction with the co-localized T-cells. In contrast, during GVHD, an increase in HLA class II-expressing cells coinciding with T-cell interaction was observed, resulting in an overt inflammatory reaction with the presence of activated APC, activated donor T-cells, and localized upregulation of HLA class II expression on epidermal cells. In the absence of GVHD, patient derived macrophages were gradually replaced by donor-derived macrophages although patient-derived macrophages were detectable even 24 weeks after alloSCT.


Conditioning regimens cause tissue damage in the skin, but this does not result in a local increase of activated APC. In contrast to the inflamed situation in GVHD, when interaction takes place between activated APC and donor T-cells, the tissue damage caused by myeloablative alloSCT results in dermal recruitment of HLA class II-positive tissue repairing macrophages co-existing with increased numbers of patient- and donor-derived T-cells, but without signs of specific interaction and initiation of an immune response. Thus, the local skin damage caused by the conditioning regimen appears to be insufficient as single factor to provoke GVHD induction.