Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) after liver transplantation is rare but associated with a very high mortality (over 85%). Most treatments focus on increasing immunosuppression, addition of antibody preparations such as OKT3 and antithymocyte globulin to eliminate the donor lymphocytes, and supporting myelopoiesis by use of cytokines. However, the results are very poor. We reasoned that a better therapeutic approach would be to reduce the immunosuppression and allow the patient's immune system an opportunity to reject the allograft donor T cells. We tested this novel therapeutic approach in 3 patients diagnosed with GVHD. Two patients had rapid loss of donor T cell chimerism and resolution of their symptoms. The other patient continued to progress to severe GVHD and died. The patients who responded to withdrawal of immunosuppression had a later onset of symptoms and a lower level of donor CD3+ T cells at the start of treatment. We conclude that larger studies are needed to further evaluate these results and to determine what factors may affect the likelihood that a patient may respond to this approach.
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