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Heat shock (stress) proteins and gamma delta T lymphocytes in oral lichen planus.

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Department of Stomatology, University of California, San Francisco, USA.



Heat shock proteins (Hsps), a highly conserved class of protective cellular proteins that are produced under various conditions of environmental challenge, have been implicated as the antigenic stimulus in autoimmune diseases. Because lichen planus (LP) appears to be an autoimmune or hyperimmune condition (mediated by T cells), Hsps may have a role in the pathogenesis of this disease. We believe that if keratinocyte Hsps are antigenic targets of a cellular immune response, upregulation of these proteins should be demonstrable in tissue sections.


Immunohistochemistry was used to evaluate expression of several families of Hsps in oral lichen planus tissues. The number and distribution of gamma delta T cells, a subset of T lymphocytes with an immune surveillance function that may contribute to autoimmunity, were also evaluated. Monoclonal antibodies to Hsps 27, 60, 70, 90, gamma delta receptor, and CD3 (pan-T lymphocyte marker) were incubated with frozen sections of LP (n = 22) and normal oral mucosa (n = 17) followed by an avidin-biotin-peroxidase labeling method. Antibodies to bacterial Hsps (GroEL and DnaK) were used as negative controls, and antibody to constitutive eukaryotic Hsp (Hsc70) was used as a positive control.


In six cases of LP, basal keratinocytes stained intensely for Hsp27, whereas controls showed only slight staining. Otherwise LP and normal tissues showed comparable positive staining of upper level keratinocytes with anti-Hsp27. Subjective increases in antibody staining were noted for Hsp60 in LP, which was due in part to staining of infiltrating lymphocytes and in part to keratinocyte expression. Normal tissues showed weak basal cell antibody staining for Hsp60. Hsp70 staining was observed at a less intense level in LP than in controls. Except for more intense basement membrane staining with anti-Hsp90 antibody in gingiva and palate, no differences in the occurrence of this protein were found. Absolute numbers of gamma delta T cells were increased in LP when compared with those in control specimens (n = 10 vs n = 1, respectively, per high-power field). However, gamma delta T cells represented less than 1% of the CD3+ lymphocytes.


It was concluded that normal oral mucosa expresses Hsps 27, 60, 70, and 90 and contains few gamma delta T cells. Although the expression of Hsps was altered in LP, the differences demonstrated were slight and were therefore inconclusive. The Hsps expressed in LP could have contributed to the persistence or chronicity of the disease, or they could have simply reflected cellular injury.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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