Graft-versus-host disease occurs when immunologically competent cells in the graft target antigens on cells in the recipient. It is generally a disease of T cell activity, and is a potential complication of any transplantation.
The skin, liver, and gastrointestinal system are primarily affected. For unknown reasons, organs such as the kidney are often spared. Acute and chronic forms are recognised. The condition may be fatal especially if the recipient is immunologically impaired. Chronic disease is more likely in older patients.
A graft-versus-tumour effect is recognised and is associated with a more favourable outcome. Note however that it will be lost in grafts from identical twins.
Last reviewed 01/2018