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Clin Cancer Res. 2005 Aug 15;11(16):5748-55.

Decreased T-cell receptor excision circles in cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

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Harvard Skin Disease Research Center, Department of Dermatology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 023115, USA.



The T cell repertoire in patients with advanced cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL) is significantly contracted despite the presence of relatively normal absolute numbers of T cells. We propose that many normal T cells were being lost in patients with CTCL, with the remaining normal T cells expanding clonally to fill the T cell compartment. T-cell receptor excision circles (TREC) form as a result of the initial gene rearrangement in naïve T cells. Although they are stable, they do not replicate and are subsequently diluted with the expansion of a population of T cells. Their concentration is therefore a measure of unexpanded naïve T cells relative to T cells that have undergone expansion.


We analyzed TRECs from unfractionated peripheral blood T cells from 108 CTCL patients by quantitative PCR. In patients with obvious peripheral blood involvement, we also analyzed TRECs from clonal and nonclonal T cells.


We found a decrease in the number of TRECs in peripheral blood of patients with CTCL at all stages of disease, and this decrease was proportional to the loss of complexity of the T cell repertoire as measured by complementarity-determining region 3 spectratyping. In patients with leukemic CTCL and a numerically expanded clone, we also found a significantly lower-than-expected number of TRECs in the nonclonal normal T cells.


We hypothesize that the nonmalignant T cells have proliferated to fill the empty T cell repertoire space left by the loss of other T cells, leading to diminished TRECs and loss of T-cell receptor diversity.

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