Low T-cell responses to mitogen stimulation predicts poor survival in recipients of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation

Michelle K. Yong, Paul U. Cameron, Monica A. Slavin, Allen C. Cheng, C. Orla Morrissey, Krystal Bergin, Andrew Spencer, David Ritchie, Sharon R. Lewin

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Background: Successful engraftment and reconstitution of the innate and adaptive immune system are associated with improved outcomes in recipients of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). A clinically meaningful and simple biomarker of immunosuppression could potentially assist clinicians in their decision-making. We aimed to determine the relationship between T-cell production of interferon gamma (IFN-γ) in response to phytohemagglutinin (PHA) to clinical outcomes in HSCT recipients. Methods: A prospective observational multicenter study of 73 adult allogeneic HSCT recipients was conducted in Melbourne, Australia. Eligible participants were > 18 years and at risk of cytomegalovirus disease. T-cell responses to PHA were assessed at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months post-HSCT using the commercial quantiferon-cytomegalovirus assay, which quantifies IFN-γ production by ELISA following stimulation with PHA. A low response was defined as IFN-γ < 0.5 IU/ml following stimulation with PHA. Results: At 3 months post-HSCT, high responses to PHA (median IFN-γ 7.68 IU/ml) were seen in 63% of participants and low responses to PHA (median IFN-γ 0.06 IU/ml) in 37%. IFN-γ responses to PHA were significantly associated with the severity of acute graft versus host disease (AGVHD) (spearman r = -0.53, p < 0.001) and correlated with blood lymphocyte count (spearman r = 0.52, p < 0.001). Twelve month overall survival was greater in individuals with high compared to low IFN-γ response to PHA at 3 months [92 vs. 62%, respectively, Cox proportional hazard ratio (HR): 4.12 95% CI: 1.2-13.7, p = 0.02]. Non-relapse mortality (NRM) was higher in individuals with low IFN-γ response to PHA (competing risk regression HR 11.6 p = 0.02). In individuals with no AGVHD compared to AGVHD and high IFN-γ response to PHA compared to AGVHD and low IFN-γ response to PHA, 12-month survival was 100 vs. 80 vs. 52%, respectively (log rank test p < 0.0001). Conclusion: Low IFN-γ response to PHA at the 3-month time-point following allogeneic HSCT was predictive of reduced 12-month overall survival, increased NRM, and reduced survival in recipients with AGVHD. Assessing IFN-γ response to PHA post-HSCT may be a clinically useful immune biomarker.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1506
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Issue numberNOV
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2017


  • Biomarker
  • Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation
  • Mitogen
  • Mortality
  • Prognosis
  • Quantiferon-cytomegalovirus
  • T-cell immunity
  • Transplantation

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