Histologic criteria for diagnosing acute rejection in vascularized composite tissue allograft (VCA) have been established by the Banff 2007 Working Classification of Skin-Containing Composite Tissue Allograft, but the role of early vascular lesions in graft rejection warrants additional analysis.
We performed a retrospective study of 34 skin biopsies performed over 430 d for rejection surveillance, in Canada’s first face allotransplant recipient. Three observers reviewed all biopsies to assess the nature and intensity of the inflammatory skin infiltrate. A complete histological and immunohistochemical review of the vascular components was performed with a focus on lymphocytic vasculitis, intravascular fibrin, vessel caliber, extent of injury, C4d positivity, and inflammatory cell phenotyping. We then correlated these data points to clinical and immunosuppression parameters.
Acute vascular damage in biopsies that would be classified as mild acute rejection correlates with troughs in immunosuppression and subsides when immunosuppressive tacrolimus doses are increased. Grade 0 Banff rejection and Grade I without lymphocytic vasculitis were almost indistinguishable, whereas Grade I with lymphocytic vasculitis was an easy and reproducible histologic finding.
Our results highlight the possible relevance of vascular injury in the context of VCA, as its presence might underlie a more aggressive form of immune rejection. If these findings are validated in other VCA patients, vascular injury in mild rejection might warrant a different clinical approach.