Human peripheral blood mononuclear cells exhibit heterogeneous CD52 expression levels and show differential sensitivity to alemtuzumab mediated cytolysis

PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e39416. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039416. Epub 2012 Jun 25.


Alemtuzumab is a monoclonal antibody that targets cell surface CD52 and is effective in depleting lymphocytes by cytolytic effects in vivo. Although the cytolytic effects of alemtuzumab are dependent on the density of CD52 antigen on cells, there is scant information regarding the expression levels of CD52 on different cell types. In this study, CD52 expression was assessed on phenotypically distinct subsets of lymphoid and myeloid cells in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from normal donors. Results demonstrate that subsets of PBMCs express differing levels of CD52. Quantitative analysis showed that memory B cells and myeloid dendritic cells (mDCs) display the highest number while natural killer (NK) cells, plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) and basophils have the lowest number of CD52 molecules per cell amongst lymphoid and myeloid cell populations respectively. Results of complement dependent cytolysis (CDC) studies indicated that alemtuzumab mediated profound cytolytic effects on B and T cells with minimal effect on NK cells, basophils and pDCs, correlating with the density of CD52 on these cells. Interestingly, despite high CD52 levels, mDCs and monocytes were less susceptible to alemtuzumab-mediated CDC indicating that antigen density alone does not define susceptibility. Additional studies indicated that higher expression levels of complement inhibitory proteins (CIPs) on these cells partially contributes to their resistance to alemtuzumab mediated CDC. These results indicate that alemtuzumab is most effective in depleting cells of the adaptive immune system while leaving innate immune cells relatively intact.

MeSH terms

  • Alemtuzumab
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / pharmacology*
  • Antigens, CD / genetics
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism*
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / metabolism*
  • CD52 Antigen
  • Cell Death / drug effects*
  • Cell Death / immunology
  • Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / drug effects*
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antigens, CD
  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • CD52 Antigen
  • CD52 protein, human
  • Glycoproteins
  • Alemtuzumab