Effect of Sirolimus on Immune Reconstitution Following Myeloablative Allogeneic Stem Cell Transplantation: An Ancillary Analysis of a Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing Tacrolimus/Sirolimus and Tacrolimus/Methotrexate (Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinical Trials Network/BMT CTN 0402).
AbstractAlthough allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) is a potentially curative therapy for hematologic neoplasms, one of its limiting toxicities continues to be graft-versus-host disease, both acute (aGVHD) and chronic (cGVHD). Sirolimus is a mammalian target of rapamycin inhibitor that has proven effective in GVHD prophylaxis in combination with a calcineurin inhibitor, such as tacrolimus. The impact of sirolimus on immune reconstitution has not been comprehensively investigated in vivo thus far, however. Here we present an ancillary analysis of the randomized study BMT-CTN 0402 that examined the effect of sirolimus on immune subsets post-transplantation. We further examine the association between different lymphocyte subsets and outcomes post-transplantation in each arm. BMT-CTN 0402 was a randomized trial (n = 304) comparing 2 GVHD prophylaxis regimens, tacrolimus/sirolimus (Tac/Sir) and tacrolimus/methotrexate (Tac/MTX), in patients with acute myelogenous leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or myelodysplastic syndrome undergoing myeloablative HLA-matched HCT. There were no differences in 114-day GVHD-free survival (primary endpoint), aGVHD, cGVHD, relapse, or overall survival (OS) between the 2 arms. Of the 304 patients, 264 had available samples for the current immune reconstitution analysis. Blood samples were collected at 1, 3, 6, 12, and 24 months post-HCT. Multiparameter flow cytometry was performed at the project laboratory (Esoterix Clinical Trials Services) in a blinded fashion, and results for the 2 arms were compared. Multivariable Cox regression models, treating each phenotypic parameter as a time-dependent variable, were constructed to study the impact of reconstitution on clinical outcomes. There were no significant differences in patient and transplantation characteristics between the Tac/Sir and Tac/MTX arms in this analysis. Absolute lymphocyte count and CD3+ cell, CD4+ cell, and conventional T cell (Tcon) counts were significantly decreased in the Tac/Sir arm for up to 3 months post-HCT, whereas CD8+ cells recovered even more slowly (up to 6 months) in this arm. Interestingly, there was no clear difference in the absolute number of regulatory T cells (Tregs, defined as CD4+CD25+ cells) between the 2 arms at any point post-HCT; however, the Treg:Tcon ratio was significantly greater in the Tac/Sir arm in the first 3 months after HCT. B lymphocyte recovery was significantly compromised in the Tac/Sir arm from 1 month to 6 months after HCT, whereas natural killer cell reconstitution was not affected in the Tac/Sir arm. In the outcomes analysis, higher numbers of CD3+ cells, CD4+ cells, CD8+ cells, and Tregs were associated with better OS. Neither Treg numbers nor the Treg:Tcon ratio was correlated with GVHD. Our findings indicate that Tac/Sir has a more profound T cell suppressive effect than the combination of Tac/MTX in the early post-transplantation period, and particularly compromises the recovery of CD8+ T cells, which have been implicated in aGVHD. Sirolimus used in vivo with tacrolimus does not appear to result in increased absolute numbers of Tregs, but might have a beneficial effect on the Treg:Tcon balance in the first 3 months after transplantation. Nonetheless, no differences in aGVHD or cGVHD between the 2 arms were observed in the parent randomized trial. Calcineurin-inhibitor free, sirolimus-containing GVHD prophylaxis strategies, incorporating other novel agents, should be investigated further to maximize the potential favorable effect of sirolimus on Treg:Tcon balance in the post-transplantation immune repertoire. Sirolimus significantly compromises B cell recovery in the first 6 months post-HCT, with potential complex effects on cGVHD that merit further study.