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Oncol Rep. 2008 Sep;20(3):677-82.

Characterization of regulatory T cells in patients with B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

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Department of Internal Medicine III, University of Ulm, Ulm, Germany.


The status of the immune system of patients with B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) is not yet sufficiently characterized. Clinically, B-CLL patients present immunodeficiency increasing along with disease progression and signs of autoimmunity. In the current study, we evaluated the expression of FOXP3 in CD4+CD25hi T regulatory lymphocytes (Treg) and their influence on immune response against tumor and viral antigens in the complex system of peripheral blood mononuclear cells. In 80 B-CLL patients, the frequency of Treg (CD4+CD25hi FOXP3+) cells was significantly higher in B-CLL patients when compared to healthy volunteers (HV) and increased with the progression of the disease (median: 8.24% in stage A, 11.24% in stage B and 12.57% in stage C according to the Binet classification). The frequency of Treg showed no correlation with prognostic markers such as ZAP-70, CD38 and HLA-G. Notably, Treg frequency correlated with serum levels of TNF (r(2)=0.45, p=0.001). T-cell immune responses against epitopes derived from the tumor-associated antigens survivin, fibromodulin and RHAMM as well as from the influenza matrix protein were evaluated. Functionally, higher frequencies of Treg correlated with decreased T-cell responses against viral and tumor antigens. In conclusion, we detected higher frequencies of Treg in B-CLL patients than in HV. Furthermore, Treg constitute the crucial mechanism of immunosuppression in B-CLL patients.

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