Erythropoietin (EPO) has multiple nonerythropoietic functions, including immune modulation, but EPO’s effects in transplantation remain incompletely understood. We tested the mechanisms linking EPO administration to prolongation of murine heterotopic heart transplantation using WT and conditional EPO receptor–knockout (EPOR-knockout) mice as recipients. In WT controls, peritransplant administration of EPO synergized with CTLA4-Ig to prolong allograft survival (P < 0.001), reduce frequencies of donor-reactive effector CD8+ T cells in the spleen (P < 0.001) and in the graft (P < 0.05), and increase frequencies and total numbers of donor-reactive Tregs (P < 0.01 for each) versus CTLA4-Ig alone. Studies performed in conditional EPOR-knockout recipients showed that each of these differences required EPOR expression in myeloid cells but not in T cells. Analysis of mRNA isolated from spleen monocytes showed that EPO/EPOR ligation upregulated macrophage-expressed, antiinflammatory, regulatory, and pro-efferocytosis genes and downregulated selected proinflammatory genes. Taken together, the data support the conclusion that EPO promotes Treg-dependent murine cardiac allograft survival by crucially altering the phenotype and function of macrophages. Coupled with our previous documentation that EPO promotes Treg expansion in humans, the data support the need for testing the addition of EPO to costimulatory blockade-containing immunosuppression regimens in an effort to prolong human transplant survival.
Julian K. Horwitz, Sofia Bin, Robert L. Fairchild, Karen S. Keslar, Zhengzi Yi, Weijia Zhang, Vasile I. Pavlov, Yansui Li, Joren C. Madsen, Paolo Cravedi, Peter S. Heeger