Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia cells drive the global CD4+ T cell repertoire towards a regulatory phenotype and leads to the accumulation of CD4+ forkhead box P3+ T cells

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Advanced chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) is associated with profound immunodeficiency, including changes in T regulatory cells (T(regs)). We determined the pattern of expression of forkhead box P3 (FoxP3), CD25, CD27 and CD127 and showed that the frequency of CD4+ FoxP3+ T cells was increased in CLL patients (12% versus 8% in controls). This increase was seen only in advanced disease, with selective expansion of FoxP3-expressing cells in the CD4+ CD25(low) population, whereas the number of CD4+ CD25(high) FoxP3+ cells was unchanged. CD4+ CD25(low) cells showed reduced expression of CD127 and increased CD27, and this regulatory phenotype was also seen on all CD4 T cells subsets in CLL patients, irrespective of CD25 or FoxP3 expression. Incubation of CD4+ T cells with primary CLL tumours led to a sixfold increase in the expression of FoxP3 in CD4+ CD25- T cells. Patients undergoing treatment with fludarabine demonstrated a transient increase in the percentage of CD4+ FoxP3+ T cells, but this reduced to normal levels post-treatment. This work demonstrates that patients with CLL exhibit a systemic T cell dysregulation leading to the accumulation of CD4+ FoxP3+ T cells. This appears to be driven by interaction with malignant cells, and increased understanding of the mechanisms that are involved could provide novel avenues for treatment.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-63
Number of pages10
JournalClinical & Experimental Immunology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2011