Adjuvant chemotherapy in breast cancer patients causes immune cell depletion at an age when the regenerative capacity is compromised. Successful regeneration requires the recovery of both quantity and quality of immune cell subsets. Although immune cell numbers rebound within a year after treatment, it is unclear whether overall compositional diversity is recovered. We investigated the regeneration of immune cell complexity by comparing peripheral blood mononuclear cells from breast cancer patients ranging from 1-5 years after chemotherapy with those of age-matched healthy controls using mass cytometry and T cell receptor sequencing. These data reveal universal changes in patients' CD4+ T cells that persisted for years and consisted of expansion of Th17-like CD4 memory populations with incomplete recovery of CD4+ naive T cells. Conversely, CD8+ T cells fully recovered within a year. Mechanisms of T cell regeneration, however, were unbiased, as CD4+ and CD8+ T cell receptor diversity remained high. Likewise, terminal differentiated effector memory cells were not expanded, indicating that regeneration was not driven by recognition of latent viruses. These data suggest that, while CD8+ T cell immunity is successfully regenerated, the CD4 compartment may be irreversibly affected. Moreover, the bias of CD4 memory toward inflammatory effector cells may impact responses to vaccination and infection.
Keywords: Cell Biology; Cellular immune response.