Purpose of review
Evolution of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) molecular typing techniques has progressively enabled more accurate determination of the three-dimensional building blocks that form the antibody accessibility and binding sites of each HLA allele. These immunogenic HLA regions known as epitopes are composed of polymorphic sequences of amino acid residues termed eplets. This review provides a critical appraisal of the current understanding of epitope compatibility in kidney transplantation.
There is a tendency to suggest that epitope matching is likely to be superior to broad antigen HLA matching such that the allocation of donor kidneys to patients with a more favorable epitope compatibility profile may lead to better allograft outcomes. A growing body of work has highlighted the association between a greater number of eplet mismatches and adverse allograft outcomes, and approaches using eplet matching have been successfully implemented in organ allocation programs. However, our understanding of epitope compatibility remains in its infancy, requiring further and more in-depth evaluation. Critically, it remains unclear how best to translate findings derived at the population level to the care of individual patients. Questions that need to be answered include a lack of consensus in the definition and interpretation of epitope compatibility, are class I and II compatibility of similar clinical importance, how best to define predetermined mismatch thresholds for utilization in organ allocation, and whether other properties such as differences in electrostatic potential between donor and recipient HLA alleles are also important in determining immunological compatibility.
Epitope matching likely represents a valid progression in understanding donor–recipient HLA compatibility. However, more clinical data and a better understanding about differences in methods to determine epitope compatibility are required before the approach can be widely applied in clinical practice.