The role of peripheral T–cell deletion in transplantation tolerance

Andrew D. Wells, Xian–Chang Li, Terry B. Strom, Laurence A. Turka


The apoptotic deletion of thymocytes that express self–reactive antigen receptors is the basis of central (thymic) self–tolerance. However, it is clear that some autoreactive T cells escape deletion in the thymus and exist as mature lymphocytes in the periphery. Therefore, peripheral mechanisms of tolerance are also crucial, and failure of these peripheral mechanisms leads to autoimmunity. Clonal deletion, clonal anergy and immunoregulation and/or suppression have been suggested as mechanisms by which ‘inappropriate’ T–lymphocyte responses may be controlled in the periphery. Peripheral clonal deletion, which involves the apoptotic elimination of lymphocytes, is critical for T–cell homeostasis during normal immune responses, and is recognized as an important process by which self–tolerance is maintained. Transplantation of foreign tissue into an adult host represents a special case of ‘inappropriate’ T–cell reactivity that is subject to the same central and peripheral tolerance mechanisms that control reactivity against self. In this case, the unusually high frequency of naive T cells able to recognize and respond against non–self–allogeneic major histocompatibility complex (MHC) antigens leads to an exceptionally large pool of pathogenic effector lymphocytes that must be controlled if graft rejection is to be avoided. A great deal of effort has been directed toward understanding the role of clonal anergy and/or active immunoregulation in the induction of peripheral transplantation tolerance but, until recently, relatively little progress had been made towards defining the potential contribution of clonal deletion. Here, we outline recent data that define a clear requirement for deletion in the induction of peripheral transplantation tolerance across MHC barriers, and discuss the potential implications of these results in the context of current treatment modalities used in the clinical transplantation setting.

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