Heart transplantation is now a viable therapeutic option for patients with certain end-stage cardiac diseases. However, episodes of rejection, opportunistic infection, and life-threatening side effects of generalized immunosuppression remain very real problems for these patients. A better understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying rejection may provide the basis for the development of more specific, less toxic immunosuppressive therapies. While cytokines have long been implicated in the pathogenesis of rejection, the precise role of each cytokine in this process has yet to be defined. We report here the application of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to the detection of cytokine mRNA in biopsies obtained from heterotopic abdominal cardiac allografts in cynomolgus monkeys. With the exception of IL-6 and IL-8, cytokine transcripts were undetectable in samples obtained from the donor heart pretransplant. In contrast, IFN-γ transcripts were detected in all transplants two days after surgery before evidence of rejection was demonstrable by histopathologic analysis. IL-10, IL-2, and IL-6 transcripts were detected when minimal rejection was noted. At later times, IL-lα, IL-10, IL-2, IL-6, IL-8, TNF-β, and IFN-γ transcripts were detectable. Further characterization of the spectrum of cytokines expressed at various stages of rejection may lead to insights into the biology of transplant rejection and to the development of more specific and potent reagents to diagnose and/or treat rejection.
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