Background The co-stimulatory inhibitor of the CD28-CD80/86-pathway, belatacept, allows calcineurininhibitor-free immunosuppression in kidney transplantation. However, aggressive T-cell mediated allogeneic responses have been observed in belatacept-treated patients, which could be explained by effector-memory T-cells that lack membrane expression of CD28, i.e. CD28-negative (CD28NULL) T-cells. CD28-positive (CD28POS) T-cells that down regulate their surface CD28 after allogeneic stimulation could also pose a threat against the renal graft. The aim of this study was to investigate this potential escape mechanism for CD28POS T-cells under belatacept treatment. Materials & Methods PBMCs, isolated T-cell memory subsets and isolated CD28POS T-cells were obtained from end-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients and co-cultured with allo-antigen in the presence of belatacept to mimic allogeneic reactions in kidney-transplant patients under belatacept treatment. As a control, IgG was used in the absence of belatacept. Results Despite high in vitro belatacept concentrations, a residual T-cell growth of ±30% was observed compared to the IgG control after allogeneic stimulation. Of the alloreactive Tcells, the majority expressed an effector-memory phenotype. This predominance for effector-memory T-cells within the proliferated cells was even larger when a higher dose of belatacept was added. Contrary to isolated naïve and central-memory T cells, isolated effectormemory T cells could not be inhibited by belatacept in differentiation or allogeneic IFNγ production. The proportion of CD28-positive T cells was lower within the proliferated T cell population, but was still substantial. A fair number of the isolated initially CD28POS T-cells differentiated into CD28NULL T-cells, which made them not targetable by belatacept. These induced CD28NULL T-cells were not anergic as they produced high amounts of IFNγ upon allogeneic stimulation. The majority of the proliferated isolated originally CD28POS T-cells, however, still expressed CD28 and also expressed IFNγ. Conclusion This study provides evidence that, apart from CD28NULL T-cells, also CD28POS, mostly effector-memory T-cells can mediate allogeneic responses despite belatacept treatment.,
Department of Internal Medicine

de Graav, G., Hesselink, D., Dieterich, M., Kraaijeveld, R., Weimar, W., & Baan, C. (2016). Down-regulation of surface CD28 under belatacept treatment: An escape mechanism for antigen-reactive T-cells. PLoS ONE, 11(2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0148604