T-cell Exhaustion in Organ Transplantation

Andrea Angeletti, Chiara Cantarelli, Leonardo V. Riella, Miguel Fribourg, Paolo Cravedi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Exhaustion of T cells occurs in response to long-term exposure to self and foreign antigens. It limits T cell capacity to proliferate and produce cytokines, leading to an impaired ability to clear chronic infections or eradicate tumors. T-cell exhaustion is associated with a specific transcriptional, epigenetic, and metabolic program and characteristic cell surface markers' expression. Recent studies have begun to elucidate the role of T-cell exhaustion in transplant. Higher levels of exhausted T cells have been associated with better graft function in kidney transplant recipients. In contrast, reinvigorating exhausted T cells by immune checkpoint blockade therapies, while promoting tumor clearance, increases the risk of acute rejection. Lymphocyte depletion and high alloantigen load have been identified as major drivers of T-cell exhaustion. This could account, at least in part, for the reduced rates of acute rejection in organ transplant recipients induced with thymoglobulin and for the pro-tolerogenic effects of a large organ such as the liver. Among the drugs that are widely used for maintenance immunosuppression, calcineurin inhibitors have a contrasting inhibitory effect on exhaustion of T cells, while the influence of mTOR inhibitors is still unclear. Harnessing or encouraging the natural processes of exhaustion may provide a novel strategy to promote graft survival and transplantation tolerance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-499
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2022


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