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Bone Marrow Transplant. 2002 Oct;30(8):509-15.

Identification of amplified clonal T cell populations in the blood of patients with chronic graft-versus-host disease: positive correlation with response to photopheresis.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


Chronic graft-versus-host disease (cGVHD) is a multiorgan disorder with skin manifestations resembling scleroderma. Since photopheresis, a treatment that induces an anticlonotypic immune response, has proven to be effective in both cutaneous T cell lymphomas with circulating clonal T cells and in cGVHD, we have searched for circulating clonal T cell populations in patients with cGVHD, and determined whether T cell clonality in the blood is associated with therapeutic response. We screened blood samples from 27 patients after HLA-matched allogeneic bone marrow transplantation (allo-BMT), 10 without cGVHD and 17 with extensive cGVHD, for clonal T cell receptor gamma (TCR gamma) gene rearrangements using fluorescent-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and automated high-resolution capillary electrophoresis. Amplified populations of clonal T cells with unique TCR gamma gene rearrangements were found in six of 10 (60%) allo-BMT patients without cGVHD and 13 of 17 (76.5%) allo-BMT patients with cGVHD (P = 0.41), as compared to none of 10 (0%) healthy controls. Twelve patients with cGVHD were treated by photopheresis, and the presence of amplified populations of clonal T cells was found to be associated with a cutaneous response to photopheresis, as eight of eight (100%) clone-positive vs none of four (0%) clone-negative patients experienced a clinically significant cutaneous response to treatment (P = 0.001). Our findings suggest that patients with cGVHD that have detectable expanded clonal T cell populations in their peripheral blood, may be more likely to respond to treatment by photopheresis.

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