Cryopreserved human heart valves are used for valve replacement in patients with congenital or acquired heart disease. Although no blood group or human leukocyte antigens (HLA) matching is performed and no immunosuppression is administered, the clinical results are relatively good. After valve replacement, the majority of the patients develop HLA antibodies, whereas a smaller group of patients shows valve-related events at the long term after right ventricular outflow tract reconstruction. Therefore, we hypothesized that not the mere presence, but rather the titers of antidonor HLA antibodies may be related to valve allograft failure. The presence and specificity of HLA class I antibodies were determined by complement-dependent microlymphocytotoxicity (CDC) test in longitudinally taken peripheral blood samples of 35 valve allograft recipients. In eight patients with an antibody response specific against donor-HLA class I, the titers were measured by this CDC method after stepwise dilution of the plasma. Panel reactive antibodies of more than 10% were found in 31 of 35 (89%) valve allograft recipients. From these 31 patients, 24 (77%) developed donor-specific HLA class I antibodies. All eight selected patients had detectable donor-specific antibody titers, ranging from 1:2 to 1:8000. Two donor valve recipients before retransplantation had (donor-specific) HLA antibodies and showed high titers of 1:256 and 1:8000 shortly after the second allograft valve replacement, which was associated with an early graft failure in the latter patient. We conclude that transplantation of cryopreserved human heart valve allografts leads to a broad and strong humoral response, which is probably the result of a lack of immunosuppressive therapy after valve transplantation. Patients receiving a second or following valve allograft appeared to be sensitized and developed early and high allo-antibody titers after second valve allograft implantation. Valve failure was diagnosed in a patient with extremely high titers. These findings suggest that preoperative cross-matching may identify patients with high donor-specific HLA antibody titers and may reduce the risk for early recurrent graft failure.

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Human Immunology
Department of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery

Welters, M., Oei, F., Witvliet, M., Vaessen, L., Cromme-Dijkhuis, A., Bogers, A., … Claas, F. (2002). A broad and strong humoral immune response to donor HLA after implantation of cryopreserved human heart valve allografts. Human Immunology, 63(11), 1019–1025. doi:10.1016/S0198-8859(02)00441-X