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Clin Exp Immunol. 1989 Jul;77(1):71-6.

Polyclonal proliferation of activated suppressor/cytotoxic T cells with transient depression of natural killer cell function in acute infectious mononucleosis.

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Department of Laboratory Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle.


In acute infectious mononucleosis large numbers of atypical lymphocytes proliferate in response to B cells infected with Epstein-Barr virus, generally resulting in a self-limited illness. Although both T-cells and NK cells are known to be involved, the precise origin of the large granular lymphocytes in this disorder is incompletely understood. Using two-colour immunofluorescent flow cytometry, we sequentially examined the phenotype of selected T cell and NK cell subsets from nine patients with infectious mononucleosis. In parallel, we determined whether these lymphocytes utilized a restricted repertoire of the T cell receptor gene and also measured their NK activity. Our results show that in acute infectious mononucleosis there was a greater than three-fold increase in T lymphocytes with the phenotype CD2+, CD3+, CD8+ and DR+. A modest increase in Leu7(HNK1)+ and CD4+ T cells was also seen. In addition, there was a three-fold increase in cells coexpressing CD3- and CD16+, the phenotype reported to represent most NK cells. In spite of this latter finding, however, a marked decrease in NK function was found at the time of diagnosis, gradually returning to normal by day 28. Finally, Southern blot analysis of DNA from patient lymphocytes showed polyclonal rearrangements of the T cell receptor beta chain gene. These studies indicate that the proliferation of activated suppressor/cytotoxic T lymphocytes in acute infectious mononucleosis is polyclonal and is associated with transient depression of NK function.

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