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Transplantation. 2003 Oct 27;76(8):1208-13.

Mesenchymal stem cells inhibit the formation of cytotoxic T lymphocytes, but not activated cytotoxic T lymphocytes or natural killer cells.

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Department of Clinical Immunology, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.



Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can reduce the incidence of graft-versus-host disease because of their ability to inhibit T-lymphocyte proliferation. There are no publications on the effect that MSCs have on cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) and natural killer (NK) cells, effector cells vital for the graft-versus-leukemia effect.


Cytotoxic T cells were primed in mixed lymphocyte culture (MLC) against irradiated stimulator lymphocytes, and irradiated third-party MSCs were added at different time points. The CTLs were collected, and their cytotoxic potential was analyzed in a chromium-release assay against the same stimulator cells as in the MLC. Purified NK cells were mixed with irradiated MSCs, and the lysis was measured in chromium-release assay against K562 target cells.


We found that MSCs inhibited CTL-mediated lysis by 70% if added at the beginning of the 6-day MLC. The lysis was not affected on day 3 or in the cytotoxic phase. Furthermore, MSCs inhibited the formation of cytotoxic lymphocytes when the cells were separated in a transwell system, which indicates that the effect is mediated by a soluble factor. NK cell-mediated lysis of K562 cells was not inhibited by MSCs. MSCs did not induce proliferation of allogeneic lymphocytes, and they were not lysed by allogeneic CTLs or NK cells.


Our findings indicate that MSCs escape recognition by CTLs and alloreactive NK cells, and inhibit the formation of cytotoxic T cells by secreting a soluble factor, but that they do not interfere with CTLs and NK cell lysis.

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