Interferon-γ receptor 1 (IFN-γR1) deficiency is a life-threatening inherited disorder, conferring predisposition to mycobacterial diseases. Haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) is the only curative treatment available, but is hampered by a very high rate of graft rejection, even with intra-familial HLA-identical transplants. This high rejection rate is not seen in any other congenital disorders and remains unexplained. We studied the underlying mechanism in a mouse model of HSCT for IFN-γR1 deficiency.
Methods and Findings
We demonstrated that HSCT with cells from a syngenic C57BL/6 Ifngr1+/+ donor engrafted well and restored anti-mycobacterial immunity in naive, non-infected C57BL/6 Ifngr1−/− recipients. However, Ifngr1−/− mice previously infected with Mycobacterium bovis bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) rejected HSCT. Like infected IFN-γR1-deficient humans, infected Ifngr1−/− mice displayed very high serum IFN-γ levels before HSCT. The administration of a recombinant IFN-γ-expressing AAV vector to Ifngr1−/− naive recipients also resulted in HSCT graft rejection. Transplantation was successful in Ifngr1−/− × Ifng−/− double-mutant mice, even after BCG infection. Finally, efficient antibody-mediated IFN-γ depletion in infected Ifngr1−/− mice in vivo allowed subsequent engraftment.
High serum IFN-γ concentration is both necessary and sufficient for graft rejection in IFN-γR1-deficient mice, inhibiting the development of heterologous, IFN-γR1-expressing, haematopoietic cell lineages. These results confirm that IFN-γ is an anti-haematopoietic cytokine in vivo. They also pave the way for HSCT management in IFN-γR1-deficient patients through IFN-γ depletion from the blood. They further raise the possibility that depleting IFN-γ may improve engraftment in other settings, such as HSCT from a haplo-identical or unrelated donor.
Claire Soudais and colleagues investigated the mechanism of rejection of hematopoietic stem cell transplants in patients with interferon-gamma receptor 1 (IFN-γR1) deficiency and show that IFN-γ is an anti-hematopoietic cytokine in vivo.
Normally, the body's immune system efficiently recognizes and kills bacteria and viruses, but in some rare inherited disorders (“primary immunodeficiencies”) part of the immune system works poorly or is missing. This leaves affected individuals susceptible to infections. People with one of these disorders—interferon-gamma receptor 1 (IFN- γR1) deficiency—are very susceptible to infections with mycobacteria. Except for Mycobacterium tuberculosis and M. leprae (which cause tuberculosis and leprosy, respectively), mycobacteria rarely cause human disease. However, most people with IFN-γR1 deficiency die during childhood from multiple, widespread mycobacterial infections, because IFN-γR1 deficiency disables a specific part of their immune system. When most bacteria enter the body, immune system cells called macrophages engulf and kill them, but mycobacteria actually multiply inside macrophages. This infection stimulates lymphocytes and other immune system cells to release IFN-γ, which binds to IFN-γR1 on uninfected macrophages, activates them, and recruits them to the infection site. Here, they form a “granuloma,” a mass of macrophages and activated lymphocytes that “walls off” the infection. Granuloma formation does not occur in patients with IFN-γR1 deficiency, so mycobacteria (including the usually benign tuberculosis vaccination strain M. bovis BCG) spread throughout the body with disastrous consequences.
Why Was This Study Done?
The only effective treatment for patients with IFN-γR1 deficiency is hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). HSCs are the source of all the immune system cells, so transplantation of HSCs from a donor with a normal IFNGR1 gene can provide a patient who has IFN-γR1 deficiency with a new immune system that can combat mycobacterial infections. Unfortunately, in this particular immune deficiency, the new HSCs cannot engraft, even when the patient's own immune system is disabled before HSCT by intensive chemotherapy, and when the donor cells come from a close relative and are a good immunological match. In this study, the researchers have investigated why rejection is so common in IFN-γR1 deficiency using a mouse strain called C57BL/6 Ifngr1−/−—C57BL/6 denotes the genetic background of these mice and Ifngr1−/− indicates that, like human patients, these mice make no IFN-γR1.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Ifngr1−/− mice, the researchers report, cannot control M. bovis BCG infections and do not form mature granulomas just like human patients with IFN-γR1 deficiency. Wild-type C57BL/6 (Ifngr1+/+) mice, however, rapidly control M. bovis BCG infections and form mature granulomas. Ifngr1+/+ HSC transplanted into mycobacteria-free Ifngr1−/− mice survived well and protected the mice against later mycobacterial challenge but Ifngr1−/− mice infected with M. bovis BCG before HSCT rejected the transplanted HSCs. Mycobacteria-infected Ifngr1−/− mice and human patients with IFN-γR1 deficiency have blood high levels of IFN-γ. Could this be responsible for HSCT rejection? To find out, the researchers expressed IFN-γ in uninfected Ifngr1−/− mice before HSCT. As in infected mice, these grafts failed. Conversely, transplanted HSCs survived when transplanted into Ifngr1−/− mice that had been genetically altered to express no IFN-γ, even when these mice were infected with M. bovis BCG before transplantation. Finally, when the researchers used antibodies (proteins made by the immune system that recognize specific molecules) to remove circulating IFN-γ from infected Ifngr1−/− mice, HSCT worked well in the animals with the lowest IFN-γ levels.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that in a mouse model of IFN-γR1 deficiency, high circulating IFN-γ concentrations drive the rejection of transplanted HSCs and prevent the development of antimycobacterial immunity, probably by directly killing the transplanted cells and/or stopping them multiplying. They also suggest how HSCT could be improved in patients with IFN-γR1 deficiency although, as with all animal studies, the situation in people might turn out to be very different. Importantly, antibodies that reduce circulating IFN-γ are already being used to treat other human immune diseases, so the clinical use of these antibodies in patients with IFN-γ deficiency before HSCT is feasible. Finally, the researchers speculate that the use of IFN-γ–depleting antibodies might be beneficial in other situations where HSCT often fails such as when a close relative is not available as a donor. However, this possibility will need to be thoroughly tested in mice before human clinical trials can be started.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050026.
General information about primary immunodeficiencies is available from the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) provides information about familial predisposition to mycobacterial disease
Wikipedia has pages on hematopoietic stem cell transplantation and on interferon-γ (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases Lab focuses on the genetic basis of predicposition or resistance to infectious diseases in humans