Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) remains a major complication of allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation. Acute GVHD (aGVHD) results from direct damage by donor T cells, whereas the biology of chronic GVHD (cGVHD) with its autoimmune-like manifestations remains poorly understood, mainly because of the paucity of representative preclinical models. We examined over an extended time period 7 MHC-matched, minor antigen–mismatched mouse models for development of cGVHD. Development and manifestations of cGVHD were determined by a combination of MHC allele type and recipient strain, with BALB recipients being the most susceptible. The C57BL/6 into BALB.B combination most closely modeled the human syndrome. In this strain combination moderate aGVHD was observed and BALB.B survivors developed overt cGVHD at 6 to 12 months affecting eyes, skin, and liver. Naïve CD4+ cells caused this syndrome as no significant pathology was induced by grafts composed of purified hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) or HSC plus effector memory CD4+ or CD8+ cells. Furthermore, co-transferred naïve and effector memory CD4+ T cells demonstrated differential homing patterns and locations of persistence. No clear association with donor Th17 cells and the phenotype of aGVHD or cGVHD was observed in this model. Donor CD4+ cells caused injury to medullary thymic epithelial cells, a key population responsible for negative T cell selection, suggesting that impaired thymic selection was an underlying cause of the cGVHD syndrome. In conclusion, we report for the first time that the C57BL/6 into BALB.B combination is a representative model of cGVHD that evolves from immunologic events during the early post-transplant period.
- Chronic graft-versus-host disease
- Mouse models
- Thymic damage
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