Aberrations of suppressor T cells in human graft-versus-host disease

The New England Journal of Medicine
E L ReinherzS F Schlossman

Abstract

To determine whether imbalances in immunoregulatory T-cell subsets exist in patients with graft-versus-host disease, we analyzed T cells in three patients with acute and in six patients with chronic graft-versus-host disease after bone-marrow transplantation. The normal human peripheral-blood T-cell compartment is composed of 80 per cent TH2-and 20 per cent TH2+ T cells, and defined by reactivity with subset-specific heteroantiserums. Human suppressor cells are TH2+, whereas helper cells are TH2-. Patients with acute and chronic graft-versus-host disease had abnormalities in these populations, and their T cells frequently bore la-like antigens. Patients with acute disease lacked TH2+ cells, and the reappearance of this subset preceded the cessation of disease activity. Chronic disease, in contrast, was more heterogeneous. Suppressor cells were lacking in two patients but increased in the other four. Two of these four patients had TH2+, la+ T cells, suggesting in vivo activation of suppressor cells. Studies showing that these TH2+, la+ cells actively suppressed the in vitro immune response support this hypothesis and suggest that the immunoregulatory cells may profoundly affect the overall immune response.

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