Effect of gemcitabine on immune cells in subjects with adenocarcinoma of the pancreas

Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2005 Sep;54(9):915-25. doi: 10.1007/s00262-004-0638-1. Epub 2005 Mar 22.


Effects of gemcitabine (Gemzar) on immune cells were examined in pancreas cancer patients to determine whether it was immunosuppressive, or potentially could be combined with vaccines or other immunotherapy to enhance patient's responses to their tumors. Blood was obtained at five time-points, before therapy, 3-4 days after initial gemcitabine infusion and immediately preceding three additional weekly infusions. Effects on T-cell subsets, B-cells, myeloid dendritic cell precursors, antigen presenting cells (APC), activated/memory, and naive cells were examined. Functional activity was measured by intracellular staining for cytokines before and after T-cell activation, and by interferon gamma production in EliSpot responses to tumor presentation. Although absolute lymphocyte counts decreased with the initial treatment with gemcitabine infusion, the counts stabilized during subsequent treatments, then returned within normal ranges seven days after the fourth treatment so that the absolute lymphocyte count no longer differed significantly from that prior to treatment. These effects on absolute lymphocyte counts were mirrored by statistically significant decreases in absolute numbers of CD3 and CD20 lymphocytes during these time periods. The proportions of T and B-cells, however did not change significantly with therapy, although significance changes were observed in some specialized subsets. A decrease in the proportions of the major BDCA-1+, CD1b myeloid dendritic cell subset and a reciprocal increase in the minor BDCA-3+ dendritic cell subsets resulted at 3-4 days, then their levels returned to normal. No significant changes in percentages of CD86 and CD80 APCs or CD4+, CD25+ T-cells were documented. Increased percentages of CD3+, CD45RO+ memory lymphocytes reached significance at day 7, then declined to statistically significant decrease at days 14 and 21 after the second and third infusions, respectively. Immune T-cells were functional in pancreas cancer patients treated with gemcitabine. The data suggest that gemcitabine therapy may decrease memory T-cells and promote naive T-cell activation. We conclude that gemcitabine therapy (1) is not immunosuppressive and (2) may enhance responses to specific vaccines or immunotherapy administered to activate or support immune responses directed toward driving effector immunity to cancer cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / drug therapy
  • Adenocarcinoma / immunology
  • Adenocarcinoma / secondary
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic / therapeutic use*
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • B-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • CD4-CD8 Ratio
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Dendritic Cells / metabolism
  • Deoxycytidine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Deoxycytidine / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism
  • Lymphocyte Activation / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • T-Lymphocytes* / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes* / metabolism


  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic
  • Deoxycytidine
  • gemcitabine
  • Ribonucleotide Reductases