Allograft rejection after renal transplantation remains a challenge to overcome. Interleukin (IL)-21, a cytokine with pleiotropic effects, maintains immune homeostasis post-transplantation. Here, we report higher levels of IL-21 in kidney transplant recipients with non-rejection (NR) than in recipients with T cell-mediated rejection (TCMR, < 0.001) and antibody-mediated rejection (ABMR, = 0.005). We observed a negative correlation between IL-21 and creatinine (Cr) levels ( = 0.016). The receiving operating characteristic (ROC) curve showed a promising diagnostic value of IL-21 to identify acute rejection with an area under the curve (AUC) of 0.822 ( < 0.001). In contrast, exogenous administration of IL-21 accelerated acute rejection in a comparative translational kidney transplant (KT) mouse model. Reduced IL-21 levels in the peripheral blood were observed in KT mice after IL-21 injection. Further analysis revealed that increased IL-21 levels in the spleen induced proliferation of CD4+ T cells and CD19+ B cells after IL-21 treatment. Our findings suggest a critical function of IL-21 in kidney transplantation and the potential involvement of the IL-21/IL-21R pathway in acute rejection management.

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