Cardiac transplantation remains the best treatment in advanced heart failure patients with a high risk of death. However, an inadequate supply of donor hearts decreases the likelihood of transplantation for many patients. Ventricular assist devices (VAD) are being increasingly used as a bridge to transplant in patients who may not survive long enough to receive a heart. This expansion in VAD use has been associated with increasing rates of allosensitization in cardiac transplant candidates. Anti-HLA antibodies can be detected prior to transplantation using different techniques. Complement-dependent lymphocytotoxicity assays are widely used to measure the panel reactive antibody (PRA), and for crossmatch purposes. Newer assays using solid phase flow techniques feature improved specificity and offer detailed information concerning antibody specificities, which may lead to improvements in donor-recipient matching. Allosensitization prolongs the wait time for transplantation and increases the risk of post-transplant complications and death; therefore, decreasing anti-HLA antibodies in sensitized transplant candidates is of vital importance. Plasmapheresis, intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), and rituximab have been used to decrease the PRA prior to transplantation with varying degrees of success. The most significant post-transplant complications seen in allosensitized recipients are antibody-mediated rejection (AMR) and cardiac allograft vasculopathy (CAV). AMR often manifests with severe allograft dysfunction and hemodynamic compromise. The underlying pathophysiology is not fully understood, but appears to involve complement-mediated activation of endothelial cells resulting in ischemic injury. The treatment of AMR in cardiac recipients is largely empirical, and includes high-dose corticosteroids, plasmapheresis, IVIG and rituximab. Cardiac allograft vasculopathy (CAV) is characterized by diffuse concentric stenosis of allograft coronary arteries due to intimal expansion. Its pathophysiology is unclear, but may involve chronic complement-mediated endothelial injury. Sirolimus and everolimus can delay the progression of CAV. In some non-sensitized cardiac transplant recipients, the de novo formation of anti-HLA antibodies after transplantation may increase the likelihood of adverse clinical outcomes. Serial post-transplant PRAs may be advisable in patients at high risk of de novo allosensitization.
Index words: Histocompatibility, graft rejection/therapy, HLA antigens/immunology, isoantibodies/blood, heart transplantation, heart-assist devices, adult