The lymphatic system plays an active role in modulating inflammation in autoimmune diseases and organ rejection. In this work, we hypothesized that the transfer of donor lymph node (LN) might be used to promote lymphangiogenesis and influence rejection in vascularized composite allotransplantation (VCA).
Hindlimb transplantations were performed in which (1) recipient rats received VCA containing donor LN (D:LN+), (2) recipient rats received VCA depleted of all donor LN (D:LN−), and (3) D:LN+ transplantations were followed by lymphangiogenesis inhibition using a vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-3 (VEGFR3) blocker.
Our data show that graft rejection started significantly later in D:LN+ transplanted rats as compared to the D:LN− group. Moreover, we observed a higher level of VEGF-C and a quicker and more efficient lymphangiogenesis in the D:LN+ group as compared to the D:LN− group. The presence of donor LN within the graft was associated with reduced immunoactivation in the draining LN and increased frequency of circulating and skin-resident donor T regulatory cells. Blocking of the VEGF-C pathway using a VEGFR3 blocker disrupts the lymphangiogenesis process, accelerates rejection onset, and interferes with donor T-cell migration.
This study demonstrates that VCA LNs play a pivotal role in the regulation of graft rejection and underlines the potential of specifically targeting the LN component of a VCA to control graft rejection.