Research ArticleGraft-Versus-Host Disease

Transcriptome analysis of GVHD reveals aurora kinase A as a targetable pathway for disease prevention

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Science Translational Medicine  25 Nov 2015:
Vol. 7, Issue 315, pp. 315ra191
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aad3231

Dawn of new graft-versus-host disease therapies

Hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HCT) is a common therapy for patients with damaged bone marrow or immunodeficiencies. However, HCT has its own risks: In cases where the donor is not a perfect match to the recipient, immune cells derived from the graft can attack their new home. Furlan et al. examined the gene expression profile of nonhuman primate T cells during acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). The transcriptomics signatures specific for alloreactive T cells identified pathways altered during acute GVHD that could serve as therapeutic targets. The authors then examined one target in particular, aurora kinase A, and demonstrated that pharmacologic inhibition could improve survival in a mouse model of GVHD.


Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is the most common complication of hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HCT). However, our understanding of the molecular pathways that cause this disease remains incomplete, leading to inadequate treatment strategies. To address this, we measured the gene expression profile of nonhuman primate (NHP) T cells during acute GVHD. Utilizing microarray technology, we measured the expression profiles of CD3+ T cells from five cohorts: allogeneic transplant recipients receiving (i) no immunoprophylaxis (No Rx), (ii) sirolimus monotherapy (Siro), (iii) tacrolimus-methotrexate (Tac-Mtx), as well as (iv) autologous transplant recipients (Auto) and (v) healthy controls (HC). This comparison allowed us to identify transcriptomic signatures specific for alloreactive T cells and determine the impact of both mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin) and calcineurin inhibition on GVHD. We found that the transcriptional profile of unprophylaxed GVHD was characterized by significant perturbation of pathways regulating T cell proliferation, effector function, and cytokine synthesis. Within these pathways, we discovered potentially druggable targets not previously implicated in GVHD, prominently including aurora kinase A (AURKA). Utilizing a murine GVHD model, we demonstrated that pharmacologic inhibition of AURKA could improve survival. Moreover, we found enrichment of AURKA transcripts both in allo-proliferating T cells and in sorted T cells from patients with clinical GVHD. These data provide a comprehensive elucidation of the T cell transcriptome in primate acute GVHD and suggest that AURKA should be considered a target for preventing GVHD, which, given the many available AURKA inhibitors in clinical development, could be quickly deployed for the prevention of GVHD.

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