Recognition of donor antigens by recipient T cells in secondary lymphoid organs initiates the adaptive inflammatory immune response leading to the rejection of allogeneic transplants. Allospecific T cells become activated through interaction of their T cell receptors with intact allogeneic major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules on donor cells (direct pathway) and/or donor peptides presented by self-MHC molecules on recipient antigen-presenting cells (APCs) (indirect pathway). In addition, recent studies show that alloreactive T cells can also be stimulated through recognition of allogeneic MHC molecules displayed on recipient APCs (MHC cross-dressing) after their transfer via cell-cell contact or through extracellular vesicles (semi-direct pathway). The specific allorecognition pathway used by T cells is dictated by intrinsic and extrinsic factors to the allograft and can influence the nature and magnitude of the alloresponse and rejection process. Consequently, various organs and tissues such as skin, cornea, and solid organ transplants are recognized differently by pro-inflammatory T cells through these distinct pathways, which may explain why these grafts are rejected in a different fashion. On the other hand, the mechanisms by which anti-inflammatory regulatory T cells (Tregs) recognize alloantigen and promote transplantation tolerance are still unclear. It is likely that thymic Tregs are activated through indirect allorecognition, while peripheral Tregs recognize alloantigens in a direct fashion. As we gain insights into the mechanisms underlying allorecognition by pro-inflammatory and Treg cells, novel strategies are being designed to prevent allograft rejection in the absence of ongoing immunosuppressive drug treatment in patients.
Marino, J., Paster, J., & Benichou, G. (2016). Allorecognition by T lymphocytes and allograft rejection. Frontiers in Immunology. Frontiers Media S.A. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2016.00582