Pediatric Graft Versus Host Disease

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The occurrence of an immunologically mediated and injurious set of reactions by cells genetically disparate to their host, otherwise known as graft versus host disease (GVHD), is a phenomenon that has been described as the age of bone marrow and solid organ transplantation has emerged. In 1962, Barnes and Loutit first described GVHD in mice. [1] Simonsen introduced the term graft-versus-host reaction in the 1960s to describe the direction of the immunological damage caused by introduction of immunologically competent cells into an immunocompromised host. [2] In 1966, Billingham proposed 3 conditions required for the development of GVHD, as follows: (1) the graft must contain immunologically competent cells, (2) the host must possess important transplant alloantigens that are lacking in the donor graft so that the host appears foreign to the graft, and (3) the host itself must be incapable of mounting an effective immunologic reaction against the graft. [3] See the image below.

According to the accepted definition, the immunologic assault itself and its consequences are referred to as GVHD. In both experimental and clinical scenarios, acute GVHD, as shown below, describes a syndrome consisting of dermatitis, enteritis, and hepatitis occurring within the first 100 days, but typically within 30-40 days, following a bone marrow transplant (BMT). Chronic GVHD usually develops after 100 days and describes an autoimmunelike syndrome consisting of impairment of multiple organs or organ systems. [4] However, the timing of GVHD occurrence to define the acute versus chronic is arbitrary.

With the advances of transplant practice, the clinical manifestations are now better defined than timing alone. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) published consensus criteria for the diagnosis of GVHD and proposed 2 subcategories for acute GVHD (classic acute and late acute) and chronic GVHD (classic chronic and overlap syndrome), taking an organ-functional impact into the account. [5] However, the feasibility of the NIH consensus criteria to replace the old grading system of chronic GVHD (limited versus extensive) is still under evaluation. [6]

GVHD can develop in the course of (1) BMT or peripheral blood progenitor (hematopoietic stem cell) transplantation; (2) transfusion of unirradiated blood products (transfusion-associated GVHD), especially in immunocompromised individuals; or (3) solid organ transplantation involving organs containing lymphoid tissue. GVHD from passive transmission of immunocompetent maternal cells has also been described in neonates with severe immunodeficiency.

Graft-versus-host reaction occurs when donor immune cells recognize disparate host antigens. These differences are governed by genetic polymorphisms of human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-dependent factors (ie, major and minor histocompatibility antigens) and non-HLA–dependent factors (ie, cytokine gene polymorphisms, nucleotide-binding oligomerization domains [NOD2] genes, and killer immunoglobin receptor [KIR] family of natural killer [NK] receptors). [7]

The immunopathologic characteristics of acute GVHD have often been separated into different phases (1-3), which describes the creation of a suitable host environment with the conditioning regimens intended to remove particular host cell populations, and immune-based sensitizing and efferent (effector) phases (see image below). [8, 9]

During phase 1 (Afferent phase), tissue injured by chemotherapy and irradiation releases proinflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha and interleukin (IL)-1, which subsequently increases expression of adhesion molecules, major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules, and costimulatory molecules. These cytokines further activate host antigen-presenting cells (APCs).

In phase 2 (Donor-T-cell activation, differentiation, and migration), the infused donor T lymphocytes are responsible for triggering GVHD and proliferate after activation by the recipient antigens expressed on host cells. APCs, such as dendritic cells or macrophages, present the antigen to CD4+ T cells, which recognize antigens in association with MHC class II molecules. [10] IL-1 produced by monocytes and other factors stimulates the T-helper cells. The T-helper cells, in turn, release compounds such as IL-2 and interferon (IFN)-γ; the latter enhances the expression of MHC class II on epithelial cells, macrophages, and dendritic cells, further stimulating the activation of T cells and NK cells.

IL-2 activates cytotoxic CD8-positive T cells, which react with MHC class I-positive targets. In addition, NK cells and macrophages appear to participate in the development of GVHD, although their roles are not well defined. Among the variables determining the extent to which GVHD develops are the types and properties of the transplanted T cells, the degree of MHC antigen mismatching, and the degree of interactions between T cells and the endothelial cells.

The final phase (3) of acute GVHD, is where immune effector cells and cytokines enact end-organ damage and contribute to a possible loss of self-tolerance. This injury is clinically manifested as the symptoms seen in GVHD and may be a contributing factor to the development of chronic GVHD.

As mentioned before, chronic GVHD develops after day 100 from transplantation and, like acute GVHD, appears dependent on alloreactivity for it to develop. Chronic GVHD has features similar to naturally occurring autoimmune disease with a wider range of involved organs. Clinical manifestations can include sclerodermatous lesions, liver failure, autoantibody production, and immune complex disease (including glomerulonephritis).

Host-recipient differences in MHC antigens or minor histocompatibility antigens can lead to this syndrome, albeit with slightly different kinetics. Alterations in thymic function with decreased thymopoiesis likely contribute to this syndrome with a breakdown of normal self-tolerance mechanisms. The donor CD4+ T-cell population is necessary for human chronic GVHD to develop; Th2 cells are the predominant subpopulation in the chronic GVHD, although the mechanisms of the disease progress remains poorly defined.

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Incidence and frequency of acute GVHD in transplanted or transfused populations is related to the presence of several risk factors, as follows: [11]

Histocompatibility: The most important factor correlating with incidence and severity of GVHD is the degree of HLA (MHC molecules in humans) disparity. With HLA-identical siblings used as bone marrow donors, the incidence of moderate-to-severe acute GVHD ranges from less than 10% to 60%, depending on prophylaxis and other risk factors (see images below). Incidence of grades II-IV acute GVHD increases to 70-75% with one HLA antigen mismatch and as much as 90% with 2-3 HLA antigen mismatch. Incidence of grades II-IV GVHD of as much as 70% have been reported in unrelated donors; a difference was noted between those receiving marrow from an HLA-identical donor or from an HLA-mismatched donor.

Graft cell composition: T-cell depletion of the bone marrow decreases the risk of GVHD but increases a risk of graft failure as well as leukemic relapse, which is due to a loss of a graft-versus-leukemia effect. Umbilical cord blood cells, when used as the source of hematopoietic stem cells, cause reduced incidence of GVHD, but the same is not true of peripheral blood stem cells.

Age and sex: Older patients have a significantly higher risk of acute GVHD, with an incidence of approximately 20% in the pediatric population and rising to 30% in patients aged 20-50 years and to 70% in patients aged 51-62 years. An increased risk of GVHD exists in recipients of gender-mismatched marrow, possibly because of HLA association with the Y chromosome.

Microenvironment: Host environment is important for the development of GVHD. Patients with aplastic anemia who are undergoing BMT and are treated with antibiotics, who are treated with skin and gut decontamination, and who are placed in a protective environment with laminar airflow units have reduced incidence of GVHD.

Chronic disease: Chronic GVHD develops in 30-50% of long-term survivors after BMT. [12] HLA disparity, prior acute GVHD, older age, and viral infections (especially herpesvirus group) are associated with increased risk of chronic GVHD. Chronic GVHD is also known to occur at a higher rate in survivors of transplant for aplastic anemia.

Type of transplantation: Acute GVHD in stem cell transplantation develops in 30-60% of recipients of sibling matched allografts. The incidence of GVHD after intestinal transplantation and liver transplantation is reported to be 5% and 0.1-1%, respectively. [13] Transfusion-associated GVHD often presents with marrow aplasia; in Japan, this is estimated to occur in 1 in 500 open-heart operations in individuals who are immunocompetent.

The survival rate is 90% in grade 0-I, 60% in grade II-III, and 0 in grade IV of acute GVHD. Fatality mainly results from infections, hemorrhages, and hepatic failure. Acute GVHD can have an antileukemic effect. In chronic GVHD, the overall survival rate is 42%, with the mortality rates increased in patients with more extensive disease and thrombocytopenia.

An increased risk of GVHD is noted in recipients of sex-mismatched marrow, possibly because of HLA association with the Y chromosome.

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Phillip Ruiz, Jr, MD, PhD Professor of Pathology, Department of Pathology and Surgery, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami

Phillip Ruiz, Jr, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association of Immunologists, American Society for Clinical Pathology, American Society of Nephrology, American Society of Transplant Surgeons, American Society of Transplantation, Clinical Immunology Society, Florida Medical Association, New York Academy of Sciences, Pan-American Medical Association of Central Florida, Southern Medical Association, United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Yaxia Zhang, MD, PhD Resident Physician, Department of Pathology, Jackson Memorial Hospital, University of Miami School of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Shoib Sarwar, MD, MPH Fellowship in Cytopathology and Immunopathology, Department of Pathology, Jackson Memorial Hospital, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Shoib Sarwar, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association, American Society for Clinical Pathology, American Society of Cytopathology, College of American Pathologists, United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology, American College of Healthcare Executives

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Harumi Jyonouchi, MD Faculty, Division of Allergy/Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics, Saint Peter’s University Hospital

Harumi Jyonouchi, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Immunologists, American Medical Association, Clinical Immunology Society, New York Academy of Sciences, Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, Society for Pediatric Research, Society for Mucosal Immunology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

John Wilson Georgitis, MD Consulting Staff, Lafayette Allergy Services

John Wilson Georgitis, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American College of Chest Physicians, American Lung Association, American Medical Writers Association, and American Thoracic Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Mustafa S Suterwala, MD Pediatrics Hospitalist, Pediatrix Medical Group of North Texas; Medical Director, Tiny Tots Clinic, Baylor University Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Pediatric Graft Versus Host Disease

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