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Blood. 2000 Dec 1;96(12):3872-9.

Thymomas alter the T-cell subset composition in the blood: a potential mechanism for thymoma-associated autoimmune disease.

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Institute of Pathology, University of Würzburg, Würzburg, Germany.


Thymomas are the only tumors that are proven to generate mature T cells from immature precursors. It is unknown, however, whether intratumorous thymopoiesis has an impact on the peripheral T-cell pool and might thus be related to the high frequency of thymoma-associated myasthenia gravis. This study shows, using fluorescence-activated cell sorting-based analyses and T-cell proliferation assays, that thymopoiesis and T-cell function in thymomas correspond with immunologic alterations in the blood. Specifically, the proportion of circulating CD45RA(+)CD8(+) T cells is significantly increased in patients with thymoma compared with normal controls, in accordance with intratumorous T-cell development that is abnormally skewed toward the CD8(+) phenotype. Moreover, it is primarily the proportion of circulating CD45RA(+)CD8(+) T cells that decreases after thymectomy. The results also demonstrate that T cells reactive toward recombinant autoantigens are distributed equally between thymomas and blood, whereas T-cell responses to foreign antigen (ie, tetanus toxoid) are seen only among circulating T cells and not among thymoma-derived T cells. These functional studies support the hypothesis that thymopoiesis occurring within thymomas alters the peripheral T-cell repertoire. Because many thymomas are enriched with autoantigen-specific T cells, a disturbance of circulating T-cell subset composition by export of intratumorous T cells may contribute to paraneoplastic autoimmune disease arising in patients with thymoma. (Blood. 2000;96:3872-3879)

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