Cultured thymus tissue implantation promotes donor-specific tolerance to allogeneic heart transplants

Jean Kwun, Jie Li, Clay Rouse, Jae Berm Park, Alton B. Farris, Maragatha Kuchibhatla, Joseph W. Turek, Stuart J. Knechtle, Allan D. Kirk, M. Louise Markert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Eighty-six infants born without a thymus have been treated with allogeneic cultured thymus tissue implantation (CTTI). These infants, who lack T cells and are profoundly immunodeficient at birth, after CTTI from an unmatched donor develop T cells similar to those of recipient that are tolerant to both their own major histocompatibility antigens and those of the donor. We tested use of CTTI with the goal of inducing tolerance to unmatched heart transplants in immunocompetent rats. We thymectomized and T cell–depleted Lewis rats. The rats were then given cultured thymus tissue from F1 (Lewis × Dark Agouti) under the kidney capsule and vascularized Dark Agouti (DA) heart transplants in the abdomen. Cyclosporine was administered for 4 months. The control group did not receive CTTI. Recipients with CTTI showed repopulation of naive and recent thymic emigrant CD4 T cells; controls had none. Recipients of CTTI did not reject DA cardiac allografts. Control animals did not reject DA grafts, due to lack of functional T cells. To confirm donor-specific unresponsiveness, MHC-mismatched Brown Norway (BN) hearts were transplanted 6 months after the initial DA heart transplant. LW rats with LWxDA CTTI rejected the third-party BN hearts (mean survival time 10 days); controls did not. CTTI recipients produced antibody against third-party BN donor but not against the DA thymus donor, demonstrating humoral donor-specific tolerance. Taken together, F1(LWxDA) CTTI given to Lewis rats resulted in specific tolerance to the allogeneic DA MHC expressed in the donor thymus, with resulting long-term survival of DA heart transplants after withdrawal of all immunosuppression.

Original languageEnglish
Article number129983
JournalJCI Insight
Issue number11
StatePublished - 4 Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


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