Immunoglobulin and specific antibody levels are well maintained in the recipients of T-cell-depleted allogeneic bone marrow transplants (BMT), even though up to 99% of mature T cells are removed from the donor graft. For 3-8 weeks after the procedure, natural killer (NK) cells with an activated pattern of target cell killing have been shown to circulate in the recipient. This study investigates whether these recipient NK cells spontaneously secrete lymphokines that modulate B cell function in a way analogous to that of in-vitro-activated NK cells from normal individuals. Large granular lymphocytes (LGLs) (which contain a high proportion of NK cells) have been prepared from the peripheral blood of 11 recipients of T-cell-depleted major-histocompatibility-complex-matched allografts. In the first 4-6 weeks after BMT these LGLs were found spontaneously to secrete interleukin 2, interferon gamma and B cell differentiation factor. While secretion of these factors declines by 20-24 weeks after BMT, the quantities are still greater than those seen from control donors. Patient LGLs are also able to activate autologous (donor) B cells, rendering them potentially responsive to the secreted factors. It appears likely that activated NK cells (or LGL) play a significant role in maintaining B cell function in vivo after T-cell-depleted BMT.
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