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Background: Malignancy is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in transplant recipients. Identification of those at highest risk could facilitate pre-emptive intervention such as reduction of immunosuppression. Reduced circulating monocytic HLA-DR density is a marker of immune depression in the general population and associates with poorer outcome in critical illness. It has recently been used as a safety marker in adoptive cell therapy trials in renal transplantation. Despite its potential as a marker of dampened immune responses, factors that impact upon monocytic HLA-DR density and the long-term clinical sequelae of this have not been assessed in transplant recipients. Methods: A cohort study of stable long-term renal transplant recipients was undertaken. Serial circulating monocytic HLA-DR density and other leucocyte populations were quantified by flow cytometry. Gene expression of monocytes was performed using the Nanostring nCounter platform, and 13-plex cytokine bead array used to quantify serum concentrations. The primary outcome was malignancy development during one-year follow-up. Risk of malignancy was calculated by univariate and multivariate proportionate hazards modelling with and without adjustment for competing risks. Results: Monocytic HLA-DR density was stable in long-term renal transplant recipients (n=135) and similar to non-immunosuppressed controls (n=29), though was suppressed in recipients receiving prednisolone. Decreased mHLA-DRd was associated with accumulation of CD14+CD11b+CD33+HLA-DRlo monocytic myeloid-derived suppressor-like cells. Pathway analysis revealed downregulation of pathways relating to cytokine and chemokine signalling in monocytes with low HLA-DR density; however serum concentrations of major cytokines did not differ between these groups. There was an independent increase in malignancy risk during follow-up with decreased HLA-DR density. Conclusions: Dampened chemokine and cytokine signalling drives a stable reduction in monocytic HLA-DR density in long-term transplant recipients and associates with subsequent malignancy risk. This may function as a novel marker of excess immunosuppression. Further study is needed to understand the mechanism behind this association.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Immunol

Publication Date





HLA-DR, cytokines, gene expression, immunosuppression, kidney transplantation, long term, malignancy, monocyte, Cohort Studies, Cytokines, HLA-DR Antigens, Humans, Kidney Transplantation, Monocytes, Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells, Neoplasms, Transplant Recipients