Cellular mechanisms responsible for maintenance of peripheral transplant tolerance in a rodent model were evaluated. Donor-specific tolerance was established in ACI rats given a vascularized heterotopic cardiac allograft followed by a 10-day course of cyclo-sporine. Tolerance was associated with a reduction in donor-specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte precursors and the presence within the spleen of cells capable of transferring suppression in adoptive transfer assays. Experiments using thymectomized animals revealed that the establishment and maintenance of tolerance occurred peripherally, independently of the thymus. Adoptive transfer experiments demonstrated that ongoing graft tolerance was mediated by suppressor cells that were antigen-restricted, radiosensitive, and capable of preventing allograft rejection by naive as well as sensitized cells in vivo. Studies designed to disrupt tolerance demonstrated a remarkable durability of graft protection once established, and give insight into the identity and mechanism of action of suppressor cells generated in this model.
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