Characterization of T cell repertoire in patients with graft-versus-leukemia after donor lymphocyte infusion

J Clin Invest. 1997 Aug 15;100(4):855-66. doi: 10.1172/JCI119601.


The clinical efficacy of donor lymphocyte infusions (DLI) in patients with relapsed chronic myelocytic leukemia after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation has been demonstrated in several recent studies. Although it is presumed that allogeneic T cells mediate this graft-versus-leukemia (GVL) effect, the influence of DLI on the T cell compartment of recipients has not been determined. To characterize the immunologic effects of DLI and to identify T cell changes selectively associated with the GVL response, we analyzed the T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire in four patients with relapsed chronic myelocytic leukemia who achieved a complete remission after infusion of CD4+ lymphocytes from HLA-identical sibling donors. Only one of the four patients developed clinically significant graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) after infusion of donor lymphocytes. TCR repertoire was examined after PCR amplification of 24 Vbeta gene subfamilies in serial samples obtained over a 1-yr period before and after DLI. Results were compared to 10 normal donors. Before DLI, all four patients were found to have abnormal TCR Vbeta repertoire in peripheral T cells, associated with a large number of clonal and oligoclonal patterns. Abnormal TCR patterns persisted for at least 3 mo after DLI, but thereafter gradually began to normalize. By 1 yr after DLI, all patients demonstrated almost complete normalization of Vbeta repertoire with polyclonal representation within almost all Vbeta gene subfamilies. We also examined changes in the TCR Vbeta repertoire associated with the disappearance of Ph+ cells. In each patient, we were able to identify the expansion of at least 1 Vbeta gene subfamily that coincided with the time of the cytogenetic response. In one patient who was studied in greater detail, CDR3 size analysis of serial samples after DLI indicated that these changes were associated with the appearance of clonal T cells. This finding was confirmed through CDR3 sequence analysis and use of CDR3 clone-specific oligonucleotide probes. A putative GVL clone identified by this technique was not detectable in either donor or patient T cells before DLI, but persisted in peripheral T cells for approximately 1 yr. These experiments therefore provide evidence for the clonal expansion of allogeneic T cells that may be selective mediators of antileukemia activity without also mediating graft-versus-host disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • CD3 Complex / genetics
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / transplantation*
  • Clone Cells / immunology
  • Female
  • Graft vs Host Reaction / immunology
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myelogenous, Chronic, BCR-ABL Positive / immunology
  • Leukemia, Myelogenous, Chronic, BCR-ABL Positive / therapy*
  • Lymphocyte Transfusion*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / analysis
  • T-Lymphocytes / classification*
  • Time Factors


  • CD3 Complex
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell