BACKGROUND: ABO-incompatible and ABO-compatible kidney transplantation are equivalent in terms of short-term graft and patient survival. This is thought to be the result of ABO-incompatible graft accommodation, which occurs when anti-blood group antibodies re-occur after transplantation but somehow do not yield their detrimental effect. The underlying mechanism is unclear, but one of the hypotheses is that this is the result of complement inhibition. Since virtually all ABO-incompatible graft biopsies are C4d positive, this complement inhibition must occur somewhere in the complement cascade after the formation of C4d has already taken place, but where exactly is unclear. It is also unclear whether complement inhibition is complete. Incomplete accommodation could explain why recent studies have shown that long-term graft function in ABO-incompatible transplantation is somewhat inferior to ABO-compatible kidney transplantation.
AIM: To unravel the relationship between pre-transplant anti-ABO antibodies, complement activation, and long-term graft function.
METHODS: We included all 27 ABO-incompatible transplantations that were performed between 2008 and 2013 at the Academic Medical Center Amsterdam and the University Medical Center Groningen. For each ABO-incompatible transplantation, we included four ABO-compatible controls matched by age, sex, and transplantation date.
RESULTS: Graft and patient survival were not significantly different. The slope of kidney function during five-year follow-up was also not significantly different, but ABO-incompatible recipients did have a lower kidney function at three months (creatinine clearance 58 vs 69 mL/min, P = 0.02, Modification of Diet in Renal Disease 46 vs 52 mL/min/1.73 m2, P = 0.08), due to a high rate of early rejection (33% vs 15%, P = 0.03), mostly T-cell mediated. Pre-transplant anti-ABO IgG titers were positively correlated with C5b-9 staining, which itself was positively correlated with the occurrence of T-cell mediated rejection. This may be the result of concurrent C5a formation, which could function as a costimulatory signal for T-cell activation.
CONCLUSION: Co-stimulation of T-cell activation by ongoing complement activation by anti-ABO antibodies may be responsible for an impaired long-term graft function in ABO-incompatible kidney transplantation.