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J Clin Invest. 1998 Aug 1;102(3):561-75.

Characterization of a novel subset of CD8(+) T cells that expands in patients receiving interleukin-12.

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Department of Adult Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


IL-12 has significant antitumor activity in mice that may be mediated by CD8(+) T cells. We show in this report that repeated subcutaneous injections of IL-12 in patients with cancer resulted in the selective expansion of a subset of peripheral blood CD8(+) T cells. This T cell subset expressed high levels of CD18 and upregulated IL-12 receptor expression after IL-12 treatment in vivo. In normal subjects, these CD3(+)CD8(+)CD18(bright) T cells expressed IL-12 and IL-2 receptors and adhesion/costimulatory molecules to a greater degree than other CD8(+) and CD4(+) T cells. They appeared morphologically as large granular lymphocytes, although they did not express NK cell markers such as CD56. In addition, CD8(+)CD18(bright) T cells were almost exclusively T cell receptor (TCR) alphabeta+, and exhibited a TCR Vbeta repertoire that was strikingly oligoclonal, whereas the Vbeta repertoire of CD18(dim) T cells was polyclonal. Although CD8+CD18(bright) T cells demonstrated little functional responsiveness to IL-12 or IL-2 alone in vitro, they responded to the combination of IL-12+IL-2 with strong IFN-gamma production and proliferation and enhanced non-MHC-restricted cytolytic activity. In contrast, CD18(dim) T cells were not activated by IL-12 or IL-2, alone or in combination. These findings demonstrate that CD8+CD18(bright) T cells are a unique population of peripheral blood lymphocytes with features of both memory and effector cells that are capable of TCR-independent activation through combined stimulation with IL-12+IL-2. As this activation results in IFN-gamma production and enhanced cytolytic activity, these T cells may play a role in innate as well as acquired immunity to tumors and infectious pathogens. Additional studies will be necessary to determine whether CD8+CD18(bright) T cells mediate the antitumor effect of IL-12 or IL-2 administered to cancer patients, and if so, whether maximal activation of these T cells with the combination of IL-12+IL-2 in vivo can augment the clinical effectiveness of these cytokines.

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