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Int J Radiat Biol. 1993 Apr;63(4):519-28.

Late T cell deficiency in victims of the Chernobyl radiation accident: possible mechanisms of induction.

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Institute of Immunology, Ministry of Public Health of Russia, Moscow, Russia.


T cell number, serum concentrations of thymic hormones and anti-epithelial autoantibodies were studied in people affected at Chernobyl NPP. Group 1 took part in the clearing-up operation and had no clinical manifestations of acute radiation sickness. Group 2 worked at the NPP during the accident; they survived acute radiation sickness (degree I-II, subgroup 2a; degree III-IV, subgroup 2b). The total doses of external radiation were 0.1-0.5 Gy in group 1, up to 4 Gy in subgroup 2a and up to 9 Gy in subgroup 2b. Total T cell number, serum thymic activity and alpha 1-thymosin concentration were decreased in all groups of affected persons. CD8+ cell number decreased only in group 1; CD4+ cell number in subgroup 2b. A decrease in thymic hormone level was most prominent in subgroup 2b. The titres of anti-epithelial antibodies were increased in all groups of affected persons independently of radiation dose. The titres were higher in patients with subnormal levels of alpha 1-thymosin. It has been proposed that radiation alters the function of thymic epithelial cells by direct action and/or through indirect mechanisms including participation of autoantibodies. The observed complex of alterations is similar to that in the normal process of immunological ageing.

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