Humoral alloreactivity has been recognized as a common cause of kidney transplant dysfunction. B-cell activation, differentiation, and antibody production are dependent on IL-21+CXCR5+ follicular T-helper (Tfh) cells. Here, we studied whether belatacept, an inhibitor of the costimulatory CD28-CD80/86-pathway, interrupts the crosstalk between Tfh- and B-cells more efficiently than the calcineurin inhibitor tacrolimus. The suppressive effects of belatacept and tacrolimus on donor antigen-driven Tfh-B-cell interaction were functionally studied in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from 40 kidney transplant patients randomized to a belatacept- or tacrolimus-based immunosuppressive regimen. No significant differences in uncultured cells or donor antigen-stimulated cells were found between belatacept- and tacrolimus-treated patients in the CXCR5+Tfh cell generation and activation (upregulation of PD-1). Belatacept and tacrolimus in vitro minimally inhibited Tfh-cell generation (by ~6-7%) and partially prevented Tfh-cell activation (by ~30-50%). The proportion of IL-21+-activated Tfh-cells was partially decreased by in vitro addition of belatacept or tacrolimus (by ~60%). Baseline expressions and proportions of activated CD86+ B-cells, plasmablasts, and transitional B-cells after donor antigen stimulation did not differ between belatacept- and tacrolimus-treated patients. Donor antigen-driven CD86 upregulation on memory B-cells was not fully prevented by adding belatacept in vitro (~35%), even in supratherapeutic doses. In contrast to tacrolimus, belatacept failed to inhibit donor antigen-driven plasmablast formation (~50% inhibition vs. no inhibition, respectively, p < 0.0001). In summary, donor antigen-driven Tfh-B-cell crosstalk is similar in cells obtained from belatacept- and tacrolimus-treated patients. Belatacept is, however, less potent in vitro than tacrolimus in inhibiting Tfh-cell-dependent plasmablast formation.

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Keywords Belatacept, Costimulatory blockade, Follicular T-helper cells, Immunoglobulins, Plasmablasts, Tacrolimus, Transitional B-cells
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Journal Frontiers in Immunology
de Graav, G.N, Hesselink, D.A, Dieterich, M, Kraaijeveld, R, Verschoor, W, Roelen, D.L, … Baan, C.C. (2017). Belatacept does not inhibit follicular T cell-dependent B-cell differentiation in kidney transplantation. Frontiers in Immunology, 8(MAY). doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00641