Upregulation of Endothelial HLA Class II is a Marker of Antibody-Mediated Rejection in Heart Allograft Biopsies

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In 2013, the International Society of Heart and Lung Transplant (ISHLT) introduced the working classification for pathologic changes associated with antibody-mediated rejection (AMR) of the heart allograft, known as pathologic AMR (pAMR). With 2 components associated with AMR, histopathologic changes) and immunopathologic markers, the proposed classification also suggests the use of class II HLA as a marker of endothelial integrity. It is known that during allograft rejection, endothelial cells are activated, therefore, we hypothesized that endothelial class II HLA rather than a marker of mere endothelial presence, is a marker of endothelial activation and becomes upregulated in AMR. Eight hundred thirty-eight heart allograft biopsies, collected from January 2016 to September 2018 at a single institution from patients with a current or recent diagnosis of AMR, were evaluated for both histopathologic and immunopathologic changes of AMR. Biopsies were labeled with immunofluorescence with antibodies against C4d and for immunohistochemistry with antibodies against C3d, CD68, and class II HLA. ISHLT criteria were used to classify the biopsies, and for class II HLA, both the percentage and the stain intensity were evaluated. Biopsies (74.8%) from our cohort showed either histopathologic pAMR-1, immunopathologic pAMR-1, or combined histopathologic and immunopathologic pAMR-2 evidence of AMR. Expression of endothelial HLA class II was significantly correlated with the diagnosis of AMR by percentage area (P < .0001) and intensity of staining (P < .0001). The diagnosis of AMR significantly correlated with moderate (+2) and strong (+3) staining intensity for class II HLA as follows: histopathologic and immunopathologic pAMR-2 with odds ratio (OR) = 28.3 (P < .0001);histopathologic pAMR-1 alone with OR = 22.7 (P < .0001); and immunopathologic pAMR-1 alone with OR = 32.6 (P < .0001). Interestingly, our study also suggested that the inclusion of C4d focally positive cases also significantly correlates with the diagnosis of AMR (P < .003). We confirmed our hypothesis that in heart allograft biopsies, there is a spectrum of both percentage and intensity of HLA class II expression due to endothelial activation, and that class II HLA by immunohistochemistry is a marker significantly correlated with the diagnosis of AMR. In addition, the group of focally positive C4d biopsies (10%-50%) should be considered positive for the immunopathologic component of the 2013 ISHLT classification, as this group of biopsies also correlated with the diagnosis of AMR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1192-1197
Number of pages6
JournalTransplantation proceedings
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Transplantation


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