Anti-Thymocyte Globulin Prophylaxis Induces a Decrease in Naive Th Cells to Inhibit the Onset of Chronic Graft-versus-Host Disease: Results from the Canadian Bone Marrow Transplant Group (CBMTG) 0801 Study
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Anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) is an established approach to decrease chronic GVHD (cGVHD), yet the exact mechanism is uncertain. To better understand the mechanism of action of ATG in preventing cGVHD, we evaluated the day 100 immune reconstitution of known cGVHD cellular biomarkers using patients from the randomized Canadian Bone Marrow Transplant Group (CBMTG) 0801 trial, which demonstrated a significant impact of ATG on cGVHD. In a separate companion biology study, we evaluated the impact of ATG prophylaxis on cGVHD cellular markers at day 100 in 40 CBMTG 0801 patients. Analysis focused on previously identified cGVHD cellular biomarkers, including naive helper T (Th) cells, recent thymic emigrant (RTE) Th cells, CD21low B cells, CD56bright NKreg cells, and Treg cells ST2, osteopontin, soluble B-cell activating factor (sBAFF), Interleukin-2 receptor alpha (sCD25), T-cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain-3 (TIM-3), matrix metallopeptidase 3, ICAM-1, C-X-C motif chemokine 10 (CXCL10), and soluble aminopeptidase N. The ATG-treated group had a >10-fold decrease in both RTE naive Th and naive Th cells (P < .0001) and a 10-fold increase in CD56bright NKreg cells (P < .0001). Treg cells, conventional Th cells, CD21low B cells, and all plasma markers were not affected. In the populations most affected by ATG, changes in naive Th cells were associated with the later development of cGVHD. This analysis suggests that ATG primarily impacts on cGVHD through suppression of naive Th cell expansion after transplantation. These associations need to be validated in additional studies.