Natural killer (NK) cells are cytotoxic lymphocytes of the innate immune system with the ability to detect HLA class I disparities via killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR). To test whether such KIR-ligand mismatches contribute to the rejection of human solid allografts, we did a retrospective cohort study of 397 HLA-DR-compatible kidney transplantations and determined the KIR and HLA genotypes of recipients and the HLA genotypes of donors. In transplantations compatible for HLA-A, HLA-B and HLA-DR (n = 137), in which a role for T cells and HLA antibodies in rejection was minimized, KIR-ligand mismatches were associated with an approximately 25% reduction in 10-year death-censored graft survival (p = 0.043). This effect was comparable to the effect of classical HLA-A and HLA-B incompatibility, and in HLA-A,-B- incompatible transplantations (n = 260) no significant additional effect of KIR-ligand mismatches was observed. Multivariate Cox regression analysis confirmed the effect of KIR-ligand mismatching as an independent risk factor in HLA-A,-B,-DR-compatible transplantations (hazard ratio 2.29, range 1.03-5.10, p = 0.043). This finding constitutes the first indication that alloreactive NK cells may thwart the success of HLA-compatible kidney transplantations, and suggests that suppression of NK-cell activity can improve the survival of such kidney grafts. In this retrospective study, KIR and HLA typing reveals that in kidney transplantations compatible for HLA-A, B and DR, the presence of KIR-ligand mismatches is associated with a significant reduction in 10-year death-censored graft survival. See editorial by Rajalingam and Gebel on page 1771.

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American Journal of Transplantation
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

van Bergen, J., Thompson, A., Haasnoot, G., Roodnat, J., de Fijter, J., Claas, F., … Doxiadis, I. (2011). KIR-ligand mismatches are associated with reduced long-term graft survival in HLA-compatible kidney transplantation. American Journal of Transplantation, 11(9), 1959–1964. doi:10.1111/j.1600-6143.2011.03621.x