We have used limiting dilution culture methods to determine the frequency of mitogen-responsive T cells in peripheral blood of patients after bone marrow autotransplantation, and have compared their responsiveness to that of allotransplant recipients and normal controls. Autotransplant patients were found to have low responder cell frequencies in tests for lymphokine-secreting helper function, and for IL-2 dependent proliferator and cytotoxic function. Multiple regression analysis showed that function was lower in autotransplant patients than in allorecipients, and lower in male patients for all three functional assays. Patients with clinically significant infection tended to have lower proliferative function in both transplant groups and lower cytotoxic function in the allotransplant population. Graft-versus-host disease was associated with lower T-cell function, but was present only in the allotransplant group; therefore, it cannot account for the even lower levels of function observed in the autotransplant population. Because we observe deficits in T-cell regeneration in autotransplant recipients that are even more severe than in allorecipients, we postulate that cellular immunodeficiency after bone marrow transplantation may reflect limitations in thymic-dependent repopulation rather than an effect of genetic disparity between host and donor (eg, clinical or subclinical graft-versus-host).

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