Acute graft-versus-host disease (aGVHD) remains a major complication of allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT). CD146 and CCR5 are proteins that mark activated T helper 17 (Th17) cells. The Th17 cell phenotype is promoted by the interaction of the receptor ICOS on T cells with ICOS ligand (ICOSL) on dendritic cells (DCs). We performed multiparametric flow cytometry in a cohort of 156 HCT recipients and conducted experiments with aGVHD murine models to understand the role of ICOSL+ DCs. We observed an increased frequency of ICOSL+ plasmacytoid DCs, correlating with CD146+CCR5+ T cell frequencies, in the 64 HCT recipients with gastrointestinal aGVHD. In murine models, donor bone marrow cells from ICOSL-deficient mice compared to those from wild-type mice reduced aGVHD-related mortality. Reduced aGVHD resulted from lower intestinal infiltration of pDCs and pathogenic Th17 cells. We transplanted activated human ICOSL+ pDCs along with human peripheral blood mono-nuclear cells into immunocompromised mice and observed infiltration of intestinal CD146+CCR5+ T cells. We found that prophylactic administration of a dual human ICOS/CD28 antagonist (ALPN-101) prevented aGVHD in this model better than did the clinically approved belatacept (CTLA-4-Fc), which binds CD80 (B7-1) and CD86 (B7-2) and interferes with the CD28 T cell costimulatory pathway. When started at onset of aGVHD signs, ALPN-101 treatment alleviated symptoms of ongoing aGVHD and improved survival while preserving antitumoral cytotoxicity. Our data identified ICOSL+-pDCs as an aGVHD biomarker and suggest that coinhibition of the ICOSL/ICOS and B7/ CD28 axes with one biologic drug may represent a therapeutic opportunity to prevent or treat aGVHD.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute (R01 CA168814 to S.P.), the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (R01 HL141432 to S.P., T32 HL007910 to D.A., and R01 11879 to B.R.B.), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (R37 AI34495 to B.R.B.), and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (grant 1293-12 to S.P.). HuPBMC-NSG GVHD studies conducted at JAX were sponsored by Alpine Immune Sciences
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