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Clin Exp Immunol. 2001 Oct;126(1):29-36.

Expansion of CD4+ T cells with a cytotoxic phenotype in patients with B-chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (B-CLL).

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Department of Immunology & Molecular Pathology, Royal Free and Middlesex Hospital Medical School, London, UK.


Abnormal CD4/CD8 ratios and T-cell function have previously been shown in patients with B-chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (B-CLL). We have demonstrated that CD4+ T cells containing both serine esterase and perforin (PF) are increased in the blood of these patients. Using flow cytometry, we have shown that the CD4+ PF+ cells were CD57+ but lacked expression of CD28, suggesting a mature population. The same phenotype in CD8+ T cells is characteristic of mature cytotoxic T cells. However, in contrast to the CD8+ T cells, the CD4+ T cells were more frequently CD45RO positive than CD45RA positive, indicating prior antigen experience. In contrast, this population lacked expression of either CD69 or HLA-DR, arguing that they were not activated or that they are an abnormal population of T cells. Their constitutive cytokine levels showed them mainly to contain IL4 and not IFNgamma, suggesting a Th2 phenotype. The role of the CD4+ PF+ T-cell population is at present uncertain. However, this potentially cytotoxic T-cell population could contribute both to enhancing survival of the B-CLL tumour cells through production of IL4, and to the immunodeficient state frequently seen in patients with this tumour, independent of drug treatment.

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