The human CD52 molecule is the target of the monoclonal antibody Alemtuzumab, which is used for treating patients with chemo-refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia as well as for T cell depletion (TCD) in the context of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). The molecule is expressed on the surface of lymphocytes, dendritic cells and to a lesser extent on blood-derived monocytes. Previously, investigators have demonstrated that the surface expression of CD52 on T cells is down-regulated after in vitro incubation with Alemtuzumab. By treating purified human CD4 T cells over 4 hours with 10 μg/mL Alemtuzumab in medium supplemented with 10% human AB serum in vitro, we observed a strong decrease of CD52 expression by flow cytometry with a maximum 3–7 days after incubation. The CD52 down-regulation was also found at weaker intensity on CD8 T cells. From previous studies in chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients, it is known that Alemtuzumab treatment also leads to a down-regulation of CD52 on T cells in vivo. However, similar experiments have not been performed in allogeneic HSCT patients receiving Alemtuzumab in vivo for T cell depletion. We therefore analyzed the expression of CD52 on human peripheral blood mononuclear cells isolated at repeated time points from 22 allogeneic HSCT patients after reduced-intensity conditioning with fludarabine and melphalan and in vivo T cell depletion with Alemtuzumab (100 mg). Half of the patients received prophylactic CD8-depleted donor lymphocyte infusions (DLI) to promote immune reconstitution. By flow cytometry, we observed that the CD52 expression on monocytes, B cells, and natural killer cells remained unaltered after transplantation and was not influenced by the application of DLI. In contrast, the majority of CD4 T cells were CD52-negative (median, 72%) after transplantation and they remained CD52-negative in patients who did not receive DLI throughout the first year after HSCT. The permanent lack of CD52 expression could not be explained by a continuous effect of Alemtuzumab, because earlier studies have shown that the antibody is not present in active plasma concentrations beyond day +60 after HSCT. In contrast, patients receiving CD8-depleted DLI demonstrated a significant increase in the proportion of CD52-positive CD4 T cells. In three of our patients (DLI: n=2, non-DLI: n=1) we analyzed the donor chimerism of CD52-positive and CD52-negative CD4 T cells sorted with high purity by flow cytometry. Three months after HSCT (before DLI), the proportion of donor T cells was clearly higher among the CD52-negative compared to the small proportion of CD52-positive cells in all patients (44% vs. 10%, 83% vs. 0%, and 100% vs. 40%). In the patient who did not receive DLI, the donor T cell chimerism remained mixed in the CD52-negative and CD52-positive fractions on days 200 (CD52-negative: 95%; CD52-positive: 15%) and 350 (CD52-negative: 92%; CD52-positive: 65%). In contrast, the two patients receiving CD8-depleted DLI showed a strong increase in the proportion of CD52-positive CD4 T cells that were of complete donor origin. Altogether, CD52 is permanently down-regulated in reconstituting CD4 T cells following HSCT with an Alemtuzumab-based TCD regimen unless DLI are applied. Our data support the idea of an active mechanism for CD52 down-regulation in CD4 T cells that is not related to B cells and natural killer cells and that appears to differently affect donor and host T cells, respectively.

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