Harms and benefits of lymphocyte subpopulations in patients with acute stroke

Neuroscience. 2009 Feb 6;158(3):1174-83. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2008.06.014. Epub 2008 Jun 13.


Lymphocytes are major players in the development of innate and adaptive immune responses but their behavior in patients with acute stroke has received little attention.

Experimental procedures: Using flow cytometry we identified total lymphocytes, T cells, helper T (Th) cells, cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL), natural killer (NK) cells, B cells, and regulatory T (Treg) cells in 46 consecutive patients with acute stroke within a median of 180 min of clinical onset, and at days 2, 7, and 90. Daily neurological score (National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale), diffusion-weighted imaging on brain magnetic resonance imaging, functional impairment, and stroke-associated infection (SAI) at day 7 were assessed. Apoptosis in lymphocyte subsets, tumor necrosis factor (TNF) -alpha/interleukin (IL) -4 production in stimulated Th and CTL, cluster of differentiation 86 (CD86) (B7-2) expression in B cells, cortisol and metanephrine in serum were measured. Multivariate analyses were used to evaluate SAI, and stroke outcome.

Results: Increased apoptosis and a fall of T, Th, CTL, B, and Treg cells were observed after stroke. Severer stroke on admission and SAI disclosed a greater decline of T, Th, and CTL cells. Increased cortisol and metanephrine was associated with severe stroke and SAI, and inversely correlated with T, and CTL. T cells, and CTL were correlated with infarct growth. Stroke but not SAI resulted in lower TNF-alpha production in Th cells. SAI showed the greatest fall of lymphocytes, T, Th, and CTL, but not B cells, or Treg. Poor outcome was associated with reduced levels of B cells, and increased expression of CD86 in B cells, but not with SAI.

Conclusion: Lymphopenia and increased apoptosis of T, Th, CTL, Treg and B cells are early signatures after human stroke. A decreased cellular response after stroke is a marker of ongoing brain damage, the stress response, and a higher risk of infection. A lower humoral response is predictor of poorer long-term outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antibody Formation / immunology
  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Cytokines / analysis
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Immune Tolerance / immunology*
  • Immunocompromised Host / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Count
  • Lymphocytes / cytology
  • Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Lymphopenia / diagnosis
  • Lymphopenia / immunology*
  • Lymphopenia / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Stress, Physiological / immunology
  • Stroke / complications*
  • Stroke / immunology*
  • Stroke / physiopathology


  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines
  • Hydrocortisone