Spontaneous operational tolerance to the allograft develops in a proportion of liver transplant (LTx) recipients weaned off immunosuppressive drugs (IS). Several previous studies have investigated whether peripheral blood gene expression profiles could identify operational tolerance in LTx recipients. However, the reported gene expression profiles differed greatly amongst studies, which could be caused by inadequate matching of clinical parameters of study groups. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to validate differentially expressed immune system related genes described in previous studies that identified tolerant LTx recipients after IS weaning. Blood was collected of tolerant LTx recipients (TOL), a control group of LTx recipients with regular IS regimen (CTRL), a group of LTx recipients with minimal IS regimen (MIN) and healthy controls (HC), and groups were matched on age, sex, primary disease, time after LTx, and cytomegalovirus serostatus after LTx. Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction was used to determine expression of twenty selected genes and transcript variants in PBMCs. Several genes were differentially expressed between TOL and CTRL groups, but none of the selected genes were differentially expressed between HC and TOL. Principal component analysis revealed an IS drug dosage effect on the expression profile of these genes. These data suggest that use of IS profoundly affects gene expression in peripheral blood, and that these genes are not associated with operational tolerance. In addition, expression levels of SLAMF7 and NKG7 were affected by prior cytomegalovirus infection in LTx recipients. In conclusion, we found confounding effects of IS regimen and prior cytomegalovirus infection, on peripheral blood expression of several selected genes that were described as tolerance-associated genes by previous studies.
This work was supported by an Erasmus MC PhD-grant (MRACE) 2015.
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