The role of the immune system in lung transplantation: towards improved long-term results
Over the past 35 years, lung transplantation has evolved from an experimental treatment to the treatment of choice for patients with end-stage lung disease. Beyond the immediate period after lung transplantation, rejection and infection are the leading causes of death. The risk of rejection after lung transplantation is generally higher than after other solid organ transplants, and this necessitates more intensive immunosuppression. However, this more intensive treatment does not reduce the risk of rejection sufficiently, and rejection is one of the most common complications after transplantation. There are multiple forms of rejection including acute cellular rejection, antibody-mediated rejection, and chronic lung allograft dysfunction. These have posed a vexing problem for clinicians, patients, and the field of lung transplantation. Confounding matters is the inherent effect of more intensive immunosuppression on the risk of infections. Indeed, infections pose a direct problem resulting in morbidity and mortality and increase the risk of chronic lung allograft dysfunction in the ensuing weeks and months. There are complex interactions between microbes and the immune response that are the subject of ongoing studies. This review focuses on the role of the immune system in lung transplantation and highlights different forms of rejection and the impact of infections on outcomes.