Genome-wide minor histocompatibility matching as related to the risk of graft-versus-host disease

Paul J. Martin, David M. Levine, Barry E. Storer, Edus H. Warren, Xiuwen Zheng, Sarah C. Nelson, Anajane G. Smith, Bo K. Mortensen and John A. Hansen

Key Points

  • Variable mismatching for minor histocompatibility antigens correlates with the risk of severe GVHD after HCT with sibling donors.

  • HLA-mismatching likely explains most of the increased risk of GVHD after HCT with unrelated donors.

Publisher's Note: There is an Inside Blood Commentary on this article in this issue.


The risk of acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is higher after allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) from unrelated donors as compared with related donors. This difference has been explained by increased recipient mismatching for major histocompatibility antigens or minor histocompatibility antigens. In the current study, we used genome-wide arrays to enumerate single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that produce graft-versus-host (GVH) amino acid coding differences between recipients and donors. We then tested the hypothesis that higher degrees of genome-wide recipient GVH mismatching correlate with higher risks of GVHD after allogeneic HCT. In HLA-genotypically matched sibling recipients, the average recipient mismatching of coding SNPs was 9.35%. Each 1% increase in genome-wide recipient mismatching was associated with an estimated 20% increase in the hazard of grades III-IV GVHD (hazard ratio [HR], 1.20; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.05-1.37; P = .007) and an estimated 22% increase in the hazard of stage 2-4 acute gut GVHD (HR, 1.22; 95% CI, 1.02-1.45; P = .03). In HLA-A, B, C, DRB1, DQA1, DQB1, DPA1, DPB1-phenotypically matched unrelated recipients, the average recipient mismatching of coding SNPs was 17.3%. The estimated risks of GVHD-related outcomes in HLA-phenotypically matched unrelated recipients were low, relative to the large difference in genome-wide mismatching between the 2 groups. In contrast, the risks of GVHD-related outcomes were higher in HLA-DP GVH-mismatched unrelated recipients than in HLA-matched sibling recipients. Taken together, these results suggest that the increased GVHD risk after unrelated HCT is predominantly an effect of HLA-mismatching.

  • Submitted August 31, 2016.
  • Accepted November 15, 2016.
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