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CD16+ natural killer cells in bronchoalveolar lavage are associated with antibody-mediated rejection and chronic lung allograft dysfunction


Acute and chronic rejections limit the long-term survival after lung transplant. Pulmonary antibody-mediated rejection (AMR) is an incompletely understood driver of long-term outcomes characterized by donor-specific antibodies (DSAs), innate immune infiltration, and evidence of complement activation. Natural killer (NK) cells may recognize DSAs via the CD16 receptor, but this complement-independent mechanism of injury has not been explored in pulmonary AMR. CD16+ NK cells were quantified in 508 prospectively collected bronchoalveolar lavage fluid samples from 195 lung transplant recipients. Associations between CD16+ NK cells and human leukocyte antigen mismatches, DSAs, and AMR grade were assessed by linear models adjusted for participant characteristics and repeat measures. Cox proportional hazards models were used to assess CD16+ NK cell association with chronic lung allograft dysfunction and survival. Bronchoalveolar lavage fluid CD16+ NK cell frequency was associated with increasing human leukocyte antigens mismatches and increased AMR grade. Although NK frequencies were similar between DSA+ and DSA- recipients, CD16+ NK cell frequencies were greater in recipients with AMR and those with concomitant allograft dysfunction. CD16+ NK cells were associated with long-term graft dysfunction after AMR and decreased chronic lung allograft dysfunction-free survival. These data support the role of CD16+ NK cells in pulmonary AMR.

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