Solid organ transplantation remains the life-saving treatment for end-stage organ failure, but chronic rejection remains a major obstacle to long-term allograft outcomes and has not improved substantially. Tertiary lymphoid organs (TLO) are ectopic lymphoid structures that form under conditions of chronic inflammation, and evidence from human transplantation suggests that TLO regularly form in allografts undergoing chronic rejection. In this study, we utilized a mouse renal transplantation model and manipulation of the lymphotoxin alpha (LTα) – lymphotoxin beta receptor (LTβR) pathway, which is essential for TLO formation, to define the role of TLO in transplantation. We showed that intragraft TLO are sufficient to activate the alloimmune response and mediate graft rejection in a model where the only lymphoid organs are TLO in the allograft. When transplanted to recipients with a normal set of secondary lymphoid organs, the presence of graft TLO or LTα overexpression accelerated rejection. If the LTβR pathway was disrupted in the donor graft, TLO formation was abrogated, and graft survival prolonged. Intravital microscopy of renal TLO demonstrated that local T and B cell activation in TLOs is similar to that observed in secondary lymphoid organs. In summary, we demonstrated that immune activation in TLO contributes to local immune responses, leading to earlier allograft failure. TLO and the LTαβ-LTβR pathway are therefore prime targets to limit local immune responses and prevent allograft rejection. These findings are applicable to other diseases such as autoimmunity or tumors, where either limiting or boosting local immune responses is beneficial and improves disease outcomes.


Gang Zhang, Neda Feizi, Daqiang Zhao, Latha Halesha, Amanda L. Williams, Parmjeet S. Randhawa, Khodor I. Abou-Daya, Martin H. Oberbarnscheidt


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