The liver is an immunologically active organ with a tolerogenic microenvironment at a quiescent state. The immunoregulatory properties of the liver appear to be retained after transplantation because liver allografts can reduce alloresponses against other organs that are simultaneously transplanted. Mechanisms of this phenomenon remain unknown. Given the known immunomodulatory properties of mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs), we hypothesized that liver mesenchymal stromal cells (L-MSCs) are superior immunomodulators and contribute to liver-mediated tolerance. L-MSCs, generated from human liver allograft biopsies, were compared with adipose mesenchymal stromal cells (A-MSCs) and bone marrow mesenchymal stromal cells (BM-MSCs). Trilineage differentiation of L-MSCs was confirmed by immunohistochemistry. Comparative phenotypic analyses were done by flow cytometry and transcriptome analyses by RNA sequencing in unaltered cell cultures. The in vitro functional analyses were performed using alloreactive T cell proliferation assays. The transcriptome analysis showed that the L-MSCs are different than the A-MSCs and BM-MSCs, with significant enrichment of genes and gene sets associated with immunoregulation. Compared with the others, L-MSCs were found to express higher cell surface levels of several select immunomodulatory molecules. L-MSCs (versus A-MSCs/BM-MSCs) inhibited alloreactive T cell proliferation (22.7% versus 56.4%/58.7%, respectively; P < 0.05) and reduced the frequency of interferon ɤ–producing T cells better than other MSCs (52.8% versus 94.4%/155.4%; P < 0.05). The antiproliferative impact of L-MSCs was not dependent on cell-to-cell contact, could be reversed incompletely by blocking programmed death ligand 1, and required a higher concentration of the competitive inhibitor of indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase for complete reversal. In conclusion, L-MSCs appear to be uniquely well-equipped immunomodulatory cells, and they are more potent than A-MSCs and BM-MSCs in that capacity, which suggests that they may contribute to liver-induced systemic tolerance.
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