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Dashkevich, A.; Raissadati, A.; Syrjälä, S. O.; Zarkada, G.; Keränen, M. A. I.; Tuuminen, R.; Krebs, R.; Anisimov, A.; Jeltsch, M.; Leppänen, V.-M.; Alitalo, K.; Nykänen, A. I.; Lemström, K. B. (2016): Ischemia-Reperfusion Injury Enhances Lymphatic Endothelial VEGFR3 and Rejection in Cardiac Allografts. In: American Journal of Transplantation, Vol. 16, No. 4: pp. 1160-1172
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Abstract

Organ damage and innate immunity during heart transplantation may evoke adaptive immunity with serious consequences. Because lymphatic vessels bridge innate and adaptive immunity, they are critical in immune surveillance;however, their role in ischemia-reperfusion injury (IRI) in allotransplantation remains unknown. We investigated whether the lymphangiogenic VEGF-C/VEGFR3 pathway during cardiac allograft IRI regulates organ damage and subsequent interplay between innate and adaptive immunity. We found that cardiac allograft IRI, within hours, increased graft VEGF-C expression and lymphatic vessel activation in the form of increased lymphatic VEGFR3 and adhesion protein expression. Pharmacological VEGF-C/VEGFR3 stimulation resulted in early lymphatic activation and later increase in allograft inflammation. In contrast, pharmacological VEGF-C/VEGFR3 inhibition during cardiac allograft IRI decreased early lymphatic vessel activation with subsequent dampening of acute and chronic rejection. Genetic deletion of VEGFR3 specifically in the lymphatics of the transplanted heart recapitulated the survival effect achieved by pharmacological VEGF-C/VEGFR3 inhibition. Our results suggest that tissue damage rapidly changes lymphatic vessel phenotype, which, in turn, may shape the interplay of innate and adaptive immunity. Importantly, VEGF-C/VEGFR3 inhibition during solid organ transplant IRI could be used as lymphatic-targeted immunomodulatory therapy to prevent acute and chronic rejection. This article highlights the role of the lymphangiogenic VEGF-C/VEGFR3 pathway during cardiac allograft ischemia-reperfusion injury, and reveals that cardiac allografts require VEGFR3 to develop adaptive immune responses and that VEGFR3 has important clinical implications in the prevention of acute and chronic rejection.