The purpose of this study is to determine the effect of systemic blockade of Interleukin-6 (IL-6) on allosensitization, regulatory T cell frequencies and suppressive phenotype, and allograft survival rates in a mouse model of corneal transplantation. Allogeneic corneal transplantation was performed using C57BL/6 mice as donors and BALB/c mice as recipients. Graft recipients were injected daily with either anti-IL-6 antibody or an isotype control antibody (1.25 mg/ml) for the first 7 days and on alternate days thereafter until week 8 after transplantation. Allograft survival was evaluated for 8 weeks using Kaplan-Meier survival analysis. Draining lymph nodes (DLN) were harvested at week 3 after transplantation, and proliferation of isolated recipient T cells through direct and indirect pathways was determined using mixed lymphocyte reaction assay. Frequencies of CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ regulatory T cells, their expression of Foxp3, and frequencies of IFNy+CD4+ Th1 cells were determined in DLN using flow cytometry. Finally, CD4+ T cells were cultured with bone marrow-derived dendritic cells from either C57BL/6 or BALB/c mice in the presence of IL-6-blocking antibody to determine Treg induction through direct and indirect pathways, respectively. Treatment with anti-IL-6 antibody suppressed both the direct and indirect pathways of allosensitization in graft recipients and significantly improved allograft survival rates. Furthermore, in vivo blockade of IL-6 enhanced Foxp3 expression by Tregs in graft recipients undergoing rejection, but did not exert a significant effect on Treg frequencies. Finally, IL-6 neutralization in vitro enhanced the differentiation of Tregs from CD4+ T cells through both direct and indirect pathways. Our results demonstrate that systemic administration of IL-6-blocking antibody to corneal allograft recipients suppresses direct and indirect routes of allosensitization, is associated with increased expression of Foxp3 by Tregs, and improves allograft survival rates.
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