Purpose of review
This review summarizes contemporary desensitization strategies for patients awaiting cardiac transplantation in an era when specific management is still somewhat controversial.
The number of sensitized patients awaiting heart transplantation is rising. Clinical assessment of antibody levels is mostly focused on human leukocyte antigen (HLA) antibodies. Sensitization to HLA antigens increases the risk of antibody medicated rejection and cardiac allograft vasculopathy after transplant, thus translates to reduced access to compatible donors and increased wait time to transplant. Desensitization therapy is commonly considered in listed patients with cPRA more than 50%, to either decrease the amount of circulating anti-HLA antibodies, reduce the antibody production, or a combination of both. Despite promising results on specific therapies (e.g., plasmapheresis, intravenous immunoglobulin, rituximab, bortezomib), there is a significant gap in knowledge on desensitization therapies in heart transplantation. Most data are from small observational studies and extrapolated from nonheart solid organ transplants.
Management of the sensitized patient awaiting heart transplant is individualized. Desensitization can facilitate negative cross-match and successful transplantation, but is associated with significant cost and potential adverse effects. The long-term outcomes of desensitization therapy remain to be determined, further emphasizing the importance of personalizing the treatment approach to each patient.