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Immunology. 2011 Jul;133(3):296-306. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2567.2011.03439.x. Epub 2011 Apr 5.

Both CD4+ FoxP3+ and CD4+ FoxP3- T cells from patients with B-cell malignancy express cytolytic markers and kill autologous leukaemic B cells in vitro.

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Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University, Sweden.


Cytotoxic CD4(+) T cells have been found in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and seem to be involved in the regulation of malignant B cells. The CD4(+) T regulatory cells (Tregs) can regulate various immune cells, including B cells, by inducing their apoptosis. Hence, different subgroups of CD4(+) T cells may be involved in the regulation of malignant B cells. In this study, the cytotoxic phenotype and function of various CD4(+) T-cell subgroups were investigated in patients with B-cell malignancies. Peripheral blood was collected from patients with CLL, various B-cell lymphomas, healthy adult donors, children with precursor B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (pre-B ALL) and from healthy children. CD4(+) T cells (CD3(+) CD4(+)  FoxP3(-)), Tregs (CD3(+) CD4(+) CD127(low) FoxP3(+)) and CD127(high) FoxP3(+) T cells (CD3(+) CD4(+) CD127(high) FoxP3(+)) were analysed for their expression of the cytolytic markers CD107a and Fas ligand. Patients with CLL had increased CD107a expression on all tested T-cell subgroups compared with healthy donors. Similar results were found in patients with B-cell lymphomas whereas the CD107a expression in children with pre-B ALL was no different from that in healthy controls. Fas ligand expression was similar between patient cells and cells of healthy donors. CD4(+) T cells and Tregs from patients with CLL and healthy donors were subsequently purified and cultured in vitro with autologous B cells. Both subgroups lysed B cells and killing was confirmed by granzyme ELISAs. In conclusion, cytotoxic populations of CD4(+) T cells, including Tregs, are present in patients with B-cell malignancy and may be an important factor in immune-related disease control.

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