The cellular infiltrate in protocol liver biopsies (PB) following pediatric liver transplantation remains mostly uncharacterized, yet there is increasing concern about the role of inflammation and fibrosis in long-term liver allografts. We aimed to define cell types in PB and to analyze their relationship with donor-specific antibodies (DSA) and histological phenotype.
PB were performed at least 1 year after transplantation. We identified 4 phenotypes: normal, fibrosis, inflammation, inflammation with fibrosis. Cell types were counted after immunostaining for CD3, CD4, CD8, CD68, CD20, MUM1, and FoxP3.
Forty-four patients underwent 1 PB between 2000 and 2015. Eleven percent (5/44) of PB displayed normal histology, 13.6% (6/44) fibrosis, 34.1% (15/44) inflammation, and 40.9% (18/44) inflammation and fibrosis. The main cell types in the portal tracts and lobules were CD3+ and CD68+ cells. Frequency of de novo DSA was 63% (27/44). The presence of CD8+ cells in the lobules was associated with fibrosis. Inflammation and fibrosis in PB were associated with the presence of circulating de novo DSA, number of de novo DSA, and C1q binding activity when compared to other phenotypes.
T cells (CD3+) and macrophages (CD68+) were the most prevalent cell-types in PB. In the presence of inflammation, portal tracts were enriched in CD3+, CD20+ but displayed fewer CD68+. This coincided with the presence and number of de novo DSA. How these cellular and humoral actors interact is unclear, but peripheral DSA may be a marker of immune cellular activity in the seemingly quiescent allograft.