The presence of donor-specific antibodies (DSAs) are associated with graft failure either following HLA-mismatched allogeneic stem cell transplantation or after organ transplantation. Although targeting B cells and plasma cells have been used for desensitization, there have been reports of failure. T follicular helper (Tfh) cells assist B cells in differentiating into antibody-secreting plasma cells. We used haploidentical allograft as a platform to investigate the possibility of targeting Tfh cells to desensitize DSA. The quantities of cTfh cell subsets in allograft candidates were abnormal, and these cells, including the cTfh2 and cTfhem cell subsets, were positively related to the production of anti-HLA antibodies. Ex vivo experiments showed that the cTfh cells of anti-HLA antibody positive allograft candidates could induce B cells to differentiate into DSA-producing plasmablasts. The immune synapse could be involved in the assistance of cTfh cells to B cells in antibody production. In vitro experiments and in vivo clinical pilot studies indicated that targeting cTfh cells with sirolimus can inhibit their auxiliary function in assisting B cells. Ex vivo and in vivo studies demonstrated the effect of sirolimus and rituximab on DSA desensitization compared with either sirolimus or rituximab alone (60%, 43.75%, and 30%, respectively). Our findings provide new insight into the role of Tfh cells in the pathogenesis of DSA production in HLA-mismatched transplant candidates. Our data also indicate that targeting Tfh cells is a novel strategy for DSA desensitization and combination of sirolimus and rituximab might be a potential therapy.
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