Allergies increase risk for corneal transplant rejection, UT Southwestern study shows

DALLAS May 20, 2005 Corneal transplant patients who suffer from eye allergies are at a significantly higher risk of transplant failure than those without allergies, UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have shown.

"We found that the immune system's response to corneal transplants was profoundly elevated in mice with allergic eye disease, resulting in the rejection of 100 percent of the corneal grafts. This was in sharp contrast to the 50 percent rejection rate that occurred in the mice without allergic eye disease," said Dr. Jerry Niederkorn, professor of ophthalmology.

Results of the study, scheduled to go online today, will appear in the June issue of the Journal of Immunology.

"The study provides insights that might explain clinical observations that patients with eye allergies have a significantly higher risk for rejecting corneal transplants than patients without eye allergies," said Dr. Niederkorn, senior author of the study. "The allergist and ophthalmologist need to work as partners in managing the allergic patient who is destined to receive a corneal transplant."

The immune system is programmed to react to organ transplants by producing a specific pattern of proteins that promote a destructive immune response, which culminates in graft rejection. The immune system responds in a markedly different manner when confronted with allergens, producing an opposing pattern of proteins.

Proteins associated with allergic responses are known to inhibit immune cells and thus, were previously believed to prevent graft rejection.

"In this study, however, the opposite was found to be true," Dr. Niederkorn said. "The presence of eye allergies altered the immune system's response to the corneal transplants in a manner that resembled a severe allergic response and culminated in a dramatic increase in corneal graft rejection."

Researchers applied ragweed pollen for several days to the right eyes of mice awaiting c

Contact: Scott Maier
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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