Xenotransplantation of solid organs in the pig-to-primate model

Burcin Ekser, Paolo Rigotti, Bruno Gridelli, David K C Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Xenotransplantation using pig organs could solve the significant increasing shortage of donor organs for allotransplantation. In the last two decades, major progress has been made in understanding the xenoimmunobiology of pig-to-nonhuman primate transplantation, and today we are close to clinical trials. The ability to genetically engineer pigs, such as human decay-accelerating factor (hDAF), CD46 (membrane cofactor protein), or α1,3-galactosyltransferase gene-knockout (GT-KO), has been a significant step toward the clinical application of xenotransplantation. Using GT-KO pigs and novel immunosuppressant agents, 2 to 6 months' survival of heterotopic heart xenotransplants has been achieved. In life-supporting kidney xenotransplantation, promising survival of close to 3 months has been achieved. However, liver and lung xenotransplantations do not have such encouraging survival as kidney and heart xenotransplantation. Although the introduction of hDAF and GT-KO pigs largely overcame hyperacute rejection, acute humoral xenograft rejection (AHXR) remains a challenge to be overcome if survival is to be increased. In several studies, when classical AHXR was prevented, thrombotic microangiopathy and coagulation dysregulation became more obvious, which make them another hurdle to be overcome. The initiating cause of failure of pig cardiac and renal xenografts may be antibody-mediated injury to the endothelium, leading to the development of microvascular thrombosis. Potential contributing factors toward the development of the thrombotic microangiopathy include: 1) the presence of preformed anti-non-Gal antibodies, 2) the development of very low levels of elicited antibodies to non-Gal antigens, 3) natural killer cell or macrophage activity, and 4) inherent coagulation dysregulation between pigs and primates. The breeding of pigs transgenic for an 'anticoagulant' or 'anti-thrombotic' gene, such as human tissue factor pathway inhibitor, hirudin, or CD39, or lacking the gene for the prothrombinase, fibrinogen-like protein-2, is anticipated to inhibit the change in the endothelium to a procoagulant state that takes place in the pig organ after transplantation. A further limitation for organ xenotransplantation is the potential for cross-species infection. As far as exogenous viruses are concerned, porcine cytomegalovirus has been detected in the tissues of recipient non-human primates, although no invasive disease was reported. Until today, no formal evidence has been presented from in vivo studies in non-human primates or from humans exposed to pig organs, tissues, or cells that porcine endogenous retroviruses infect primate cells. Xenotransplantation is a potential answer to the current organ shortage. Its future depends on; 1) further genetic modification of pigs, 2) the introduction of novel immunosuppressive agents that target the innate immune system and plasma cells, and 3) the development of clinically-applicable methods to induce donor-specific tolerance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-92
Number of pages6
JournalTransplant Immunology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009


  • α1,3-galactosyltranferase gene-knockout
  • Heart
  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Solid organ
  • Xenotransplantation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Transplantation


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