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Lancet. 2004 Jul 24-30;364(9431):355-64.

In-vivo dominant immune responses in aplastic anaemia: molecular tracking of putatively pathogenetic T-cell clones by TCR beta-CDR3 sequencing.

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Hematology Branch, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.



Aplastic anaemia is a bone-marrow-failure syndrome characterised by low blood-cell counts and fatty bone marrow. In most cases, no obvious aetiological factor can be identified. However, clinical responses to immunosuppression strongly suggest an immune pathophysiology.


To test the hypothesis that aplastic anaemia results from antigen-specific lymphocyte attack against haemopoietic tissue, we analysed effector immunity, seeking especially dominant specific T-cell responses. Blood samples from 54 patients with aplastic anaemia were subjected to flow cytometry to define T-cell-receptor Vbeta-chain usage and expansion of particular Vbeta subsets. We measured the size distribution of the complementarity-determining region 3 (CDR3) for expanded Vbeta subsets, then cloned and sequenced skewed, oligoclonal, or monoclonal peaks.


Expanded Vbeta subsets were identified in almost all the patients. Over-represented Vbeta subsets from CD8-positive cells showed oligoclonal or monoclonal CDR3 size patterns. The CDR3 sequence repertoire in aplastic anaemia showed much redundancy compared with healthy donors. We identified patient-specific putative pathogenetic clonotypes that were not detectable in controls. In selected patients who were assessed longitudinally, these clonotypes were quantitatively related to disease activity. Selective killing of autologous haemopoietic progenitors by the Vbeta-specific lymphocyte population was shown in one patient. These apparently pathogenetic CDR3 sequences showed homology between individuals, suggesting a role for a "semi-public" immune response in the pathophysiology of aplastic anaemia.


In-vivo dominant clonal immune response can be identified in many patients with aplastic anaemia, which is evidence for an underlying antigen-driven immune process. Longitudinal tracking by molecular techniques could inform individual clinical decisions and the development of new treatments in autoimmune diseases.


Although the target of the aberrant immune response is the haemopoietic stem cell, the triggering antigens remain unknown. We combined cell phenotypic, molecular biology, and functional analyses to study the effector arm of immunity in an attempt to establish an immune pathophysiology. Clinical application of such a model could broadly extend to other autoimmune diseases.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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