Immune responses following tocilizumab therapy to desensitize HLA-sensitized kidney transplant candidates

Am J Transplant. 2022 Jan;22(1):71-84 doi: 10.1111/ajt.16709.

Kidney transplant candidates (KTCs) who are HLA highly sensitized (calculated panel-reactive alloantibodies >95%) have poor access to deceased kidney transplantation. In this single-center prospective study, 13 highly sensitized desensitization-naïve KTCs received IV tocilizumab (8 mg/kg) every 4 weeks. We evaluated tolerability as well as immune responses, that is, T cell, B cell, T follicular helper (Tfh) subsets, blood cytokines (IL-6, soluble IL-6 receptor-sIL-6R-, IL-21), blood chemokines (CXCL10, CXCL13), and anti-HLA alloantibodies. Tocilizumab treatment was well-tolerated except in one patient who presented spondylodiscitis, raising a note of caution. Regarding immune parameters, there were no significant changes of percentages of lymphocyte subsets, that is, CD3+ , CD3+ /CD4+ , CD3+ /CD8+ T cells, and NK cells. This was also the case for Tfh cell subsets, B cells, mature B cells, plasma cells, pre-germinal center (GC) B cells, and post-GC B cells, whereas we observed a significant increase in naïve B cells (p = .02) and a significant decrease in plasmablasts (p = .046) over the tocilizumab treatment course. CXCL10, CXCL13, IL-21, total IgG, IgA, and IgM levels did not significantly change during tocilizumab therapy; conversely, there was a significant increase in IL-6 levels (p = .03) and a huge increase in sIL-6R (p = .00004). There was a marginal effect on anti-HLA alloantibodies (class I and class II). To conclude in highly sensitized KTCs, tocilizumab as a monotherapy limited B cell maturation; however, it had almost no effect on anti-HLA alloantibodies.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Case Series / Case Control / Cohort
KEYWORDS: clinical research / practice; desensitization; kidney transplantation / nephrology; kidney transplantation: living donor; translational research / science
MESH HEADINGS: Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized; CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes; Humans; Immunity; Kidney Transplantation; Prospective Studies