Cord blood transplantation recapitulates fetal ontogeny with a distinct molecular signature that supports CD4+ T-cell reconstitution

Prashant Hiwarkar, Mike Hubank, Waseem Qasim, Robert Chiesa, Kimberly C. Gilmour, Aurore Saudemont, Persis J. Amrolia and Paul Veys

Key Points

  • Cord blood T cells are ontogenetically distinct from the peripheral blood T cells.

  • Recapitulation of fetal ontogeny after cord blood transplantation results in rapid CD4+ T-cell reconstitution.


Omission of in vivo T-cell depletion promotes rapid, thymic-independent CD4+-biased T-cell recovery after cord blood transplant. This enhanced T-cell reconstitution differs from that seen after stem cell transplant from other stem cell sources, but the mechanism is not known. Here, we demonstrate that the transcription profile of naive CD4+ T cells from cord blood and that of lymphocytes reconstituting after cord blood transplantation is similar to the transcription profile of fetal CD4+ T cells. This profile is distinct to that of naive CD4+ T cells from peripheral blood and that of lymphocytes reconstituting after T-replete bone marrow transplantation. The transcription profile of reconstituting naive CD4+ T cells from cord blood transplant recipients was upregulated in the T-cell receptor (TCR) signaling pathway and its transcription factor activator protein-1 (AP-1). Furthermore, a small molecule inhibitor of AP-1 proportionally inhibited cord blood CD4+ T-cell proliferation (P < .05). Together, these findings suggest that reconstituting cord blood CD4+ T cells reflect the properties of fetal ontogenesis, and enhanced TCR signaling is responsible for the rapid restoration of the unique CD4+ T-cell biased adaptive immunity after cord blood transplantation.

  • Submitted July 26, 2017.
  • Accepted September 16, 2017.
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