Changes in human lymphocyte subpopulations in tonsils and regional lymph nodes of human head and neck squamous carcinoma compared to control lymph nodes

BMC Immunol. 2001;2:2. doi: 10.1186/1471-2172-2-2. Epub 2001 Apr 10.


Background: Lymphoid tissues constitute basic structures where specific immune responses take place. This leads to the development of germinal centres (GCs), migration of cells and the generation of memory cells. Here, we have compared human tumour reactive lymph nodes and tonsils with control lymph nodes.

Results: The study by flow cytometry shows that in control lymph nodes the majority of cells were naive T-lymphocytes (CD45RA+/CD7+). In reactive nodes, although the percentage of CD45RO+ T cells remains constant, there is an increase in the number of B-lymphocytes, and a reduction in naive T cells. The percentage of cells expressing CD69 was similar in reactive nodes and in controls. In both cases, we have found two populations of B cells of either CD69- or CD69dull. Two populations of T cells, which are either negative for CD69 or express it in bright levels (CD69bright), were also found. The analysis of tissue sections by confocal microscopy revealed differences between control, tonsils and tumor reactive lymph nodes. In control lymph nodes, CD19 B cells are surrounded by a unique layer of CD69bright/CD45RO+ T cells. GCs from tonsils and from tumour reactive nodes are mainly constituted by CD19 B cells and have four distinct layers. The central zone is composed of CD69- B cells surrounded by CD69bright/CD45RO+ T cells. The mantle region has basically CD69dull B-lymphocytes and, finally, there is an outer zone with CD69-/CD45RO+ T cells.

Conclusions: Human secondary lymphoid organs react with an increase in the proportion of B lymphocytes and a decrease in the number of CD45RA+ T cells (naive). In tonsils, this is due to chronic pathogen stimulation, whereas in lymph nodes draining head and neck carcinomas the reaction is prompted by surrounded tumors. During this process, secondary lymphoid organs develop secondary follicles with a special organization of T and B cells in consecutive layers, that are described here by confocal microscopy. This pattern of cellular distribution may suggest a model of cell migration into the secondary lymphoid follicles.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • B-Lymphocyte Subsets / chemistry
  • B-Lymphocyte Subsets / classification
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Head
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / analysis
  • Lymph Nodes / cytology
  • Lymph Nodes / immunology*
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / classification*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck
  • Palatine Tonsil / cytology
  • Palatine Tonsil / immunology*
  • Palatine Tonsil / pathology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / chemistry
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / classification


  • Leukocyte Common Antigens