Selection of T lymphocytes bearing limited TCR-Vbeta regions in the lung of hypersensitivity pneumonitis and sarcoidosis

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1997 Feb;155(2):587-96. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.155.2.9032199.


Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) and sarcoidosis are interstitial lung disorders (ILD) characterized by a lymphocytic alveolitis that, in the active phase of the disease, is sustained by different T-cell subsets, i.e., CD8+ cells in HP and CD4+ lymphocytes in sarcoid patients. To address the question of whether a bias in T-cell selection occurs in the lung of patients with HP and sarcoidosis, we analyzed the T-cell receptor beta chain variable region (TCR-Vbeta) repertoire by flow cytometry and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analyses in blood and lung lymphocytes of 14 HP and 25 sarcoid patients. To verify whether these cells can be activated in vitro through the TCR, blood and lung lymphocytes were also assessed for their responsiveness to different superantigenic stimuli represented by staphylococcal enterotoxins, including SEA, SEB, SEC1, SEC2, SED, and SEE. Flow cytometry and PCR analyses demonstrated an overexpression of cells bearing Vbeta2, Vbeta3, Vbeta5, Vbeta6, and Vbeta8 gene segments in the lung of HP patients as compared with the peripheral blood. In sarcoid patients cells bearing Vbeta2, Vbeta5, and Vbeta6 gene segments in the lung of HP patients as compared with the peripheral blood. In sarcoid patients cells bearing Vbeta2, Vbeta5, and Vbeta6 gene segments were overrepresented in the lung rather than in the blood. Both in HP and sarcoid patients almost all T cells bearing the dominant Vbeta segment belonged to the T-cell subset that sustains the alveolitis, i.e., CD8 in HP patients and CD4 in sarcoid subjects. Follow-up studies demonstrated that the recovery of the alveolitis was characterized by the disappearance of cells bearing a limited T-cell repertoire. Interestingly, T-lymphocyte response to different superantigens demonstrated that the proliferation elicited by different staphylococcal toxins was more pronounced in the lung than in the blood. Taken together, our findings indicate a compartmentalization of cells bearing discrete Vbeta gene products in the pulmonary microenvironment and suggest that the expansion of specific Vbeta region subsets occurring in the lung might result from triggering by a specific antigen. In fact, the removal from exposure in HP patients or specific treatment in sarcoidosis resulted in the decrease of the overrepresented cell population accounting for the lymphocytic alveolitis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alveolitis, Extrinsic Allergic / blood
  • Alveolitis, Extrinsic Allergic / immunology*
  • Enterotoxins / immunology
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Gene Expression / immunology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenotype
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sarcoidosis / blood
  • Sarcoidosis / immunology*
  • Staphylococcus / immunology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*


  • Enterotoxins