The remarkable difference in success rates between clinical pancreas transplantation and islet transplantation is poorly understood. Despite the same histocompatibility barrier and similar immunosuppressive treatments in both transplantation procedures, human intraportal islet transplantation has a much inferior success rate than does vascularized pancreas transplantation. Thus far, little attention has been directed to the possibility that islets transplanted into the blood stream may elicit an injurious incompatibility reaction. We have tested this hypothesis in vitro with human islets and in vivo with porcine islets. Human islets were exposed to nonanticoagulated human ABO-compatible blood in surface-heparinized polyvinyl chloride tubing loops. Heparin and/or the soluble complement receptor 1 (sCR1) TP10 were tested as additives. Adult porcine islets were transplanted intraportally into pigs, and the liver was recovered after 60 min for immunohistochemical staining. Human islets induced a rapid consumption and activation of platelets. Neutrophils and monocytes were also consumed, and the coagulation and complement systems were activated. Upon histological examination, islets were found to be embedded in clots and infiltrated with CD11+ leukocytes. Furthermore, the cellular morphology was disrupted. When heparin and sCR1 were added to the blood, these events were avoided. Porcine islets retrieved in liver biopsies after intraportal islet allotransplantation showed a morphology similar to that of human islets perifused in vitro. Thus, exposure of isolated islets of Langerhans to allogenic blood resulted in significant damage to the islets, a finding that could explain the unsatisfactory clinical results obtained with intraportal islet transplantation. Because administration of heparin in combination with a soluble complement receptor abrogated these events, such treatment would presumably improve the outcome of clinical islet transplantation by reducing both initial islet loss and subsequent specific immune responses.

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