Background: Donor-specific antibodies (DSA) against donor human leukocyte antigen after liver transplantation, which are associated with histological changes, have been widely studied with respect to their sustained impact on transplant function. However, their long-term impact after liver transplantation remains unclear.
Methods: We performed a cross-sectional analysis from June 2016 to July 2017 that included all patients who presented themselves for scheduled follow-up after receiving a liver transplantation between September 1989 and December 2016. In addition to a liver protocol biopsy, patients were screened for human leukocyte antigen antibodies (HLAab) and donor-specific antibodies. Subsequently, the association between human leukocyte antigen antibodies, donor-specific antibodies, histologic and clinical features, and immunosuppression was analyzed.
Results: Analysis for human leukocyte antigen antibodies and donor-specific antibodies against donor human leukocyte antigen was performed for 291 and 271 patients. A significant association between higher inflammation grades and the presence of human leukocyte antigen antibodies and donor-specific antibodies was detected, while fibrosis stages remained unaffected. These results were confirmed by multivariate logistic regression for inflammation showing a significant increase for presence of human leukocyte antigen antibodies and donor-specific antibodies (OR: 4.43; 95% CI: 1.67-12.6; p=0.0035). Furthermore, the use of everolimus in combination with tacrolimus was significantly associated with the status of negative human leukocyte antigen antibodies and donor-specific antibodies. Viral etiology for liver disease, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and higher steatosis grades of the graft were significantly associated with a lower rate of human leukocyte antigen antibodies. The impact of human leukocyte antigen antibodies and donor-specific antibodies against donor human leukocyte antigen was associated with higher levels of laboratory parameters, such as transaminases and bilirubin.
Conclusion: Donor-specific antibodies against donor human leukocyte antigen are associated with histological and biochemical graft inflammation after liver transplantation, while fibrosis seems to be unaffected. Future studies should validate these findings for longer observation periods and specific subgroups.