BACKGROUND: We have previously demonstrated that in a concordant hamster-to-nude rat cardiac transplant model, T-independent specific B-lymphocyte and natural killer (NK)-cell tolerance could be induced, leading to long-term xenograft (Xg) survival. Here, we investigated whether the same could be achieved in a clinically more relevant semi-discordant model involving hamster hearts transplanted into pre-sensitized, nude rats. METHODS: Sensitized, nude rats with high titers of anti-hamster immunoglobulin (Ig)M xenoantibodies (XAbs) were prepared by transplanting a first hamster heart without treatment. One week after rejection, a complete tolerizing regimen was given, including the following: a) an i.v. injection of hamster heart antigens; b) a 4-week administration of malononitriloamide; and c) a single injection of an anti-NK antiserum. Two weeks later, a second hamster heart was grafted. The isotype and level of XAb were examined by fluorescence-activated cell sorting. NK cytotoxicity was evaluated by a standard 4-hr 51Cr release assay. Hamster heart Xgs were examined by conventional histologic and immunohistochemical analysis. RESULTS: Untreated, presensitized, nude rats developing high titers of IgM XAb underwent hyperacute rejection within 4 hr (n=4) after transplantation of the second hamster heart. Immunohistochemical analysis showed intensive staining for IgM and C3 along the vascular endothelia in the rejected Xgs. In contrast, presensitized, nude rats receiving the complete tolerizing regimen had a rapid decrease in anti-hamster IgM XAb. The second hamster hearts were not rejected and showed long-term survival even after withdrawal of malononitriloamide (n=6). Moreover, tolerant rats showed specific B-lymphocyte tolerance and a specific continuous absence of anti-hamster NK-cell reactivity. CONCLUSION: T-independent B-lymphocyte and NK-cell xenotolerance can also be achieved in recipients with pre-existing IgM XAb.