Bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS) is the major obstacle to long-term survival after lung transplantation, yet markers for early detection and intervention are currently lacking. Given the role of regulatory T cells (Treg) in modulation of immunity, we hypothesized that frequencies of Treg in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) after lung transplantation would predict subsequent development of BOS. Seventy BALF specimens obtained from 47 lung transplant recipients were analyzed for Treg lymphocyte subsets by flow cytometry, in parallel with ELISA measurements of chemokines. Allograft biopsy tissue was stained for chemokines of interest. Treg were essentially all CD45RA−, and total Treg frequency did not correlate to BOS outcome. The majority of Treg were CCR4+ and CD103− and neither of these subsets correlated to risk for BOS. In contrast, higher percentages of CCR7+ Treg correlated to reduced risk of BOS. Additionally, the CCR7 ligand CCL21 correlated with CCR7+ Treg frequency and inversely with BOS. Higher frequencies of CCR7+ CD3+CD4+CD25hiFoxp3+CD45RA− lymphocytes in lung allografts is associated with protection against subsequent development of BOS, suggesting that this subset of putative Treg may down-modulate alloimmunity. CCL21 may be pivotal for the recruitment of this distinct subset to the lung allograft and thereby decrease the risk for chronic rejection
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