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Genes Immun. 2001 Nov;2(7):381-7.

Genetic determinism in the relationship between human CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocyte populations?

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Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology Unit, St. Thomas' Hospital, London SE1 9RT, UK.


The adaptive immune system in mammals acts in a coordinated manner to eliminate environmentally derived pathogens. Humans, mice and rats show within species variation in the levels and ratios of their peripheral CD4+ and CD8+ T cells and to a significant degree this variation is under the control of polymorphic genes. Whether genes act separately to specify CD4+ and CD8+ subpopulation levels or whether CD8+ variation is controlled through gene and environmental action on CD4+ cells or vice versa, is not known. We use a quantitative modelling approach in identical and non-identical female human twins to delineate the lines of control which act upon and between CD4+ and CD8+ subsets. The major findings of the study are: (1) genetic variation controls CD8+ T cell levels through two major routes-the first is via an effect on CD4+ T cells which accounts for the observed co-variation between CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, the second is through direct action on CD8+ T cell levels. (2) No evidence of a gene effect from CD8+ T cells on CD4+ cells is observed. Our findings have implications for the evolution of the complex defence system of which CD4+ and CD8+ T cells are a crucial part and encourage further work towards locating common pleiotropic quantitative trait loci responsible for variation in numbers of T cells.

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