High frequency of immune dysfunctions in asbestos workers and in patients with malignant mesothelioma

J Clin Immunol. 1986 May;6(3):225-33. doi: 10.1007/BF00918702.


We have examined the primary immune responses, the numbers of total T (T11+) cells, T-helper (T4+) cells, T-suppressor (T8+) cells, and natural killer (NK) (Leu7+) cells, in 118 healthy control subjects and compared the data to those obtained from 20 patients with clinically diagnosed malignant mesothelioma and 375 long-term asbestos workers without neoplasia. The absolute numbers of total T (T11+) and T-helper (T4+) cells were normal in asbestos workers without neoplasia but were significantly reduced in patients with mesothelioma. T-suppressor (T8+) cells, on the other hand, remained unchanged in the patients but were significantly elevated among the asbestos workers. This resulted in a marked reduction in T-helper (Th) to T-suppressor (Ts) ratios in mesothelioma patients and in asbestos workers. Seventy percent of the mesothelioma patients (14 of 20) had significantly depressed NK-cell activity which could be augmented but not normalized by coincubation in patients' peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) with interferon (IFN). Among the asbestos workers three distinctive subgroups could be identified: heightened (H-NK), normal (N-NK), and low (L-NK) NK activity. The NK activity of the L-NK group could be stimulated but not normalized by coincubation with IFN, a finding closely resembling that in malignant mesothelioma patients. Phenotyping of the circulating NK cells revealed a unique Leu7+ subset in increased numbers with a brightly fluorescent property in stable mesothelioma patients with relatively stable or slowly progressive disease and in more than 30% of the asbestos workers.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Asbestos* / adverse effects
  • Cell Line
  • Cytotoxicity, Immunologic
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular*
  • Interferons / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Leukemia, Myeloid
  • Mesothelioma / immunology*
  • Phenotype
  • Recombinant Proteins / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / classification
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology


  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Asbestos
  • Interferons