Tocilizumab increases regulatory T cells, reduces natural killer cells and delays graft-versus-host disease development in humanized mice treated with post-transplant cyclophosphamide

Publication Name

Immunology and Cell Biology


Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is a life-threatening complication following donor hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, where donor T cells damage host tissues. This study investigated the effect of tocilizumab (TOC) combined with post-transplant cyclophosphamide (PTCy) on immune cell engraftment and GVHD development in a humanized mouse model. NOD-scid-IL2Rγnull (NSG) mice were injected intraperitoneally with 2 × 107 human (h) peripheral blood mononuclear cells and cyclophosphamide (33 mg kg−1) or saline on days 3 and 4, then TOC or control antibody (0.5 mg mouse−1) twice weekly for 28 days. Mice were monitored for clinical signs of GVHD for either 28 or 70 days. Spleens and livers were assessed for human leukocyte subsets, and serum cytokines and tissue histology were analyzed. In the short-term model (day 28), liver and lung damage were reduced in PTCy + TOC compared with control mice. All groups showed similar splenic hCD45+ leukocyte engraftment (55–60%); however, PTCy + TOC mice demonstrated significantly increased (1.5–2-fold) splenic regulatory T cells. Serum human interferon gamma was significantly reduced in PTCy + TOC compared with control mice. Long-term (day 70), prolonged survival was similar in PTCy + TOC (median survival time, > 70 days) and PTCy mice (median survival time, 56 days). GVHD onset was significantly delayed in PTCy + TOC, compared with TOC or control mice. Notably, natural killer cells were reduced (77.5%) in TOC and PTCy + TOC mice. Overall, combining PTCy with TOC increases regulatory T cells and reduces clinical signs of early GVHD, but does not improve long-term survival compared with PTCy alone.

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