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J Immunol. 2012 Sep 15;189(6):3198-208. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1200602. Epub 2012 Aug 8.

Expansion of effector memory regulatory T cells represents a novel prognostic factor in lower risk myelodysplastic syndrome.

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Immunology Department, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, Tampa, FL 33612, USA.


Myelodysplastic syndromes are premalignant diseases characterized by cytopenias, myeloid dysplasia, immune dysregulation with association to autoimmunity, and variable risk for acute myeloid leukemia transformation. Studies of FOXP3(+) regulatory T cells (Tregs) indicate that the number and/or activation state may influence cancer progression in these patients. Focusing on patients with a lower risk for leukemia transformation, 18 (34.6%) of 52 patients studied displayed an altered Treg compartment compared with age-matched controls. Delineation of unique Treg subsets revealed that an increase in the absolute number of CD4(+)FOXP3(+)CD25(+)CD127(low)CD45RA(-)CD27(-) Tregs (effector memory Tregs [Treg(EM)]) was significantly associated with anemia (p = 0.046), reduced hemoglobin (p = 0.038), and blast counts ≥5% (p = 0.006). In healthy donors, this Treg(EM) population constitutes only 2% of all Tregs (one to six Tregs per microliter) in peripheral blood but, when isolated, exhibit greater suppressive activity in vitro. With a median follow-up of 3.1 y (range 2.7-4.9 y) from sample acquisition, increased numbers of Treg(EM) cells proved to have independent prognostic importance in survival estimates, suggesting that enumeration of this Treg subset may be a more reliable indicator of immunological escape than FOXP3(+) T cells as a whole. Based on multivariate analyses, Treg(EM) impacted survival independently from myeloblast characteristics, cytopenias, karyotype, and comorbidities. Based on these findings, Treg(EM) cell expansion may be synonymous with human Treg activation and indicate microenvironmental changes conducive to transformation in myelodysplastic syndromes.

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