Heat shock proteins (hsp) are intracellular proteins that are rapidly synthesized in response to a variety of stress factors. Recent studies in rats have shown that these proteins can elicit a lymphocyte response during cardiac allograft rejection. We studied the expression of the inducible (i) and constitutive (c) forms of hsp70 in rat cardiac allograft and isograft recipients to evaluate their utility as indicators of transplant rejection. Heterotopic transplantation of rat hearts was performed, using Lewis to Lewis isografts and ACI to Lewis allografts. Sham-operated rats were used as controls. Transplanted isograft, allograft, and native hearts of the transplant recipients and their livers and spleens were harvested at 5 days posttransplant and analyzed for hsp70 (i) and (c) expression by Western blots. Seven animals were studied in each group. Isografts at 3 and 60 days and allografts at 3 days were also studied. Quantification of band densities was carried out by laser densitometry. Physiological function of the native hearts of the transplant recipients was studied using Langendorff preparations. High levels of hsp70 (i) were noted in the transplanted and native hearts of the transplant recipients but not in their livers or spleens or in the hearts of the sham-operated control animals. Myocardial function of the native hearts of the transplant recipients was not significantly different from that of the controls. Significantly higher levels of hsp70 (e) were present in mild and severely rejecting allografts compared with controls and nonrejecting isografts. In the rat model of heterotopic cardiac transplantation, high levels of hsp70 (i) in the native hearts of the allograft and isograft recipients suggest a transplant-related, cardiac- specific stress process, not previously described. Heat shock protein 70 (c) expression is significantly increased during early and late allograft rejection and may serve as an indicator of transplant rejection.
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