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Clin Exp Immunol. 2011 Nov;166(2):164-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2011.04472.x.

Diminished regulatory T cells in cutaneous lesions of thymoma-associated multi-organ autoimmunity: a newly described paraneoplastic autoimmune disorder with fatal clinical course.

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Department of Dermatology, Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine, Osaka, Japan.


Thymoma-associated multi-organ autoimmunity is a rare, autoimmune disease that causes colitis, liver dysfunction and cutaneous graft-versus-host (GVH)-like skin damage. This paraneoplastic autoimmune disorder may be due to inadequate T cell selection in the tumour environment of the thymus. Although sporadic case reports have revealed its clinical features, little is known about its pathological mechanism. By comparing the skin-infiltrating T cell subsets with those of GVH disease (GVHD) and other inflammatory skin diseases, we sought to elucidate the pathological mechanism of thymoma-associated multi-organ autoimmunity. Histopathological and immunohistochemical analysis of skin biopsies was performed for three patients with thymoma-associated multi-organ autoimmunity. Histopathological findings of thymoma-associated multi-organ autoimmunity were indistinguishable from those of patients with acute GVHD, although the aetiologies of these diseases are completely different. The frequency of regulatory T cells (T(regs)) is reduced in cutaneous lesions and CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes that massively infiltrate into the epidermis of patients with thymoma-associated multi-organ autoimmunity. Additionally, the ratio of T helper type 17 (Th17) cells to CD4+ cells in patients with thymoma-associated multi-organ autoimmunity and acute GVHD was higher than that in healthy controls, but similar to that in psoriasis vulgaris patients. Similarity of the skin-infiltrating T cell subsets with those of acute GVHD suggested that skin damage in patients with thymoma-associated multi-organ autoimmunity might be induced by self-reactive cytotoxic T lymphocytes under the diminished suppressive capacity of T(regs).

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