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BACKGROUND: Interleukin 21 (IL-21) is involved in regulating the expansion and effector function of a broad range of leukocytes, including T cells and B cells. In transplantation, the exact role of IL-21 in the process of allograft rejection is unknown. To further explore this, the aim of this study is to test the effect of an IL-21 receptor (IL-21R) blocking antibody on the early phase of allograft rejection in a humanized skin transplantation model in mice reconstituted with human T and B cells. METHODS: Immunodeficient Balb/c IL2rγRag2 mice were transplanted with human skin followed by adoptive transfer of human allogeneic splenocytes. Control animals were treated with a PBS vehicle while the other group was treated with a humanized anti-IL-21R antibody (αIL-21R). RESULTS: In the PBS treated animals, human skin allografts were infiltrated with lymphocytes and developed a thickened epidermis with increased expression of the inflammatory markers Keratin 17 (Ker17) and Ki67. In mice treated with αIL-21R, these signs of allograft reactivity were significantly reduced. Concordantly, STAT3 phosphorylation was inhibited in this group. Of note, treatment with αIL-21R attenuated the process of T and B cell reconstitution after adoptive cellular transfer. CONCLUSION: These findings demonstrate that blockade of IL-21 signaling can delay allograft rejection in a humanized skin transplantation model.

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