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J Dermatol Sci. 2006 Aug;43(2):85-94. Epub 2006 Jun 23.

Extracorporeal photopheresis: a focus on apoptosis and cytokines.

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Department of Haematology, Rotherham General Hospital, South Yorkshire S60 2UD, UK.


Induction of apoptosis and changes to cytokine secretion patterns have been implicated in the mechanism of action of extracorporeal photopheresis (ECP). Lymphocyte apoptosis is initially detected in significant numbers prior to re-infusion and by 48 h post-ECP the majority of treated lymphocytes are apoptotic. The early apoptosis involves changes to mitochondrial function, reversal of the Bcl-2/Bax ratio and externalisation of phosphatidylserine. Apoptotic lymphocytes, observed from 20 h post-ECP, are associated with enhanced levels of CD95 and Fas-ligand. For cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL), processing of the apoptotic lymphocytes, by suitable antigen presenting cells (APCs), is suggested to induce a clonal cytotoxic response which targets the malignant T cell population. Increased levels of TNFalpha and IFNgamma, observed post-ECP in monocytes and lymphocytes, respectively, are thought to further contribute to the proposed anti-tumour reaction seen in CTCL. However, down-regulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines and enhanced anti-inflammatory responses have been reported following ECP treatment. These immune responses may contribute to the tempering of the inflammatory conditions, such as graft versus host disease, which respond to ECP. Furthermore, untreated monocytes exposed to ECP-treated lymphocytes have also demonstrated a shift in monocyte cytokine-secretory pattern, toward one associated with immune tolerance. Recently, a mechanism of ECP-induced immune tolerance has been linked to the stimulation of the anti-inflammatory cytokines IL10 and TGFbeta by T regulatory cells, following the infusion of ECP-treated CD11c(+) APCs. Ultimately, the multifaceted responses, induced by ECP, may explain the diversity of clinical conditions that benefit.

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