CTLA4, a high-affinity ligand of B7, can, in soluble form, prevent antigen-driven T-cell activation by blocking CD28-B7 interaction and can thereby prevent immune graft rejection. In this study, we tested the capacity of soluble CTLA4-Ig alone or in combination with UV-B irradiation to suppress corneal allograft rejection in rabbits.
Corneas from Dutch belted rabbits were incubated in corneal storage medium containing 0, 1, 10, 25, or 250 µg/ml of CTLA4-Ig for 18 h and were then transplanted into the vascularized or nonvascularized corneas of New Zealand White rabbit recipients. A series of donor corneas were exposed to UV-B irradiation alone or a combination of irradiation and CTLA4-Ig to determine if these two treatments would have an additive effect in prolonging graft survival. The fate and clinical condition of the allografts were evaluated by slit-lamp photomicroscopic observation and corneal-thickness measurements. Grafts that were rejected were processed for histopathologic and immunohistochemical analysis to determine the characteristics of cells infiltrating the grafts.
Grafts placed in nonvascularized corneas showed no differences in survival times, regardless of treatment. Among the grafts placed in vascularized corneas, those incubated with CTLA4-Ig at a concentration of 250 µg/ml failed within 7–14 days. Histopathologic and immunocytochemical examination revealed a dense accumulation of immune inflammatory cells, especially class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-expressing, antigen-presenting cells, in the failed grafts. Grafts incubated with CTLA4-Ig at concentrations of 1 and 10 µg/ml had mean survival times greater than the control, untreated corneal allografts. Some of the grafts in these two treatment groups survived for the 100-day observation period, whereas none of the grafts in the other treatment groups survived to this end point. UV-B irradiated grafts incubated with CTLA4-Ig at a concentration of 1 µg/ml appeared to have longer survival times and fewer rejections compared with control, untreated grafts and grafts treated with UV-B or CTLA4-Ig alone.
The results show that the CTLA4-Ig coreceptor blocking agent can prolong corneal allograft survival in vascularized graft sites and that UV-B irradiation followed by incubation in CTLA4-Ig may prolong graft survival better than either treatment alone. These results suggest that agents that prevent second-signal interaction between antigen-presenting cells and T lymphocytes may be useful for inhibiting corneal allograft rejection.