Qualitative, rather than quantitative, differences between HLA-DQ alleles affect HLA-DQ immunogenicity in organ transplantation

Chelsea Maguire, Pietro Crivello, Katharina Fleischhauer, Dylan Isaacson, Aurora Casillas, Cynthia S.M. Kramer, Hannah C. Copley, Sebastiaan Heidt, Vasilis Kosmoliaptsis, Maria Meneghini, Michael Gmeiner, Jesse Schold, Yoram Louzoun, Anat R. Tambur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Prolonging the lifespan of transplanted organs is critical to combat the shortage of this life-saving resource. Chronic rejection, with irreversible demise of the allograft, is often caused by the development of donor-specific HLA antibodies. Currently, enumerating molecular (amino acid) mismatches between recipient and donor is promoted to identify patients at higher risk of developing HLA antibodies, for use in organ allocation, and immunosuppression-minimization strategies. We have counseled against the incorporation of such approaches into clinical use and hypothesized that not all molecular mismatches equally contribute to generation of donor-specific immune responses. Herein, we document statistical shortcomings in previous study design: for example, use of individuals who lack the ability to generate donor-specific-antibodies (HLA identical) as part of the negative cohort. We provide experimental evidence, using CRISPR-Cas9-edited cells, to rebut the claim that the HLAMatchmaker eplets represent “functional epitopes.” We further used unique sub-cohorts of patients, those receiving an allograft with two HLA-DQ mismatches yet developing antibodies only to one mismatch (2MM1DSA), to interrogate differential immunogenicity. Our results demonstrate that mismatches of DQα05-heterodimers exhibit the highest immunogenicity. Additionally, we demonstrate that the DQα chain critically contributes to the overall qualities of DQ molecules. Lastly, our data proposes that an augmented risk to develop donor-specific HLA-DQ antibodies is dependent on qualitative (evolutionary and functional) divergence between recipient and donor, rather than the mere number of molecular mismatches. Overall, we propose an immunological mechanistic rationale to explain differential HLA-DQ immunogenicity, with potential ramifications for other pathological processes such as autoimmunity and infections.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15455
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. HLA: Immune Response Genetics published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • HLA-DQ
  • epitope
  • histocompatibility
  • immunogenicity
  • organ-transplantation


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