UAMS Scientists Believe Enzyme Could Help Avoid Transplant Rejection

By ChaseYavondaC

The findings of Lyle Burdine, M.D., Ph.D., transplant surgeon and assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Division of Surgical Research and his research team — including postdoctoral fellow Ara Kim Wiese, Ph.D., and assistant professor Marie Schluterman Burdine, Ph.D. — were published July 27 in PLOS ONE, an online, peer-reviewed journal.

The team uncovered a new role for an enzyme, DNA-dependent protein kinase, or DNA-PKcs, central to many immune system processes, most notably the production of IL-2 which regulates white blood cell activity.

The majority of unsuccessful transplant surgeries are due the recipient’s immune system rejecting the transplanted tissue and attacking it.

“DNA-PKcs, is critically important in processes that are essential to a properly functioning immune system,” said Burdine. “We knew this enzyme could be inhibited so we decided to study it closer to see how it works and if it could manipulate the protein to aid in preventing transplant rejection.”

The team’s research included the study of a DNA-PK inhibitor, NU7441, a small molecule inhibitor. The study found that in the presence of NU7441, the production of IL-2 by lymphocytes, a subtype of white blood cells, decreased significantly. This could prove to be a successful method of immunosuppression, which is done deliberately after transplant surgeries to prevent the recipient’s body from rejecting the transplant.

“Our results underscore an additional role of DNA-PKcs in the immune system and suggest that inhibition of this enzyme will likely have an immediate and profound effect on the maturation of lymphocytes as well as antibody formation,” said Burdine.

The next step will be to see if suppressing DNA-PKcs following a transplant will help avoid a rejection from the recipient’s immune system. The team of UAMS researchers is starting pre-clinical studies this year. The work will take place in the new home of the Division of Surgical Research at the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute.

UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and eight institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute, Institute for Digital Health & Innovation and the Institute for Community Health Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS’ clinical enterprise. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,275 students, 890 medical residents and fellows, and five dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 12,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube or Instagram.