Objective: An increased percentage of Vdelta1+/gamma/delta T cells has been detected both in the peripheral blood and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc). This study evaluated the subset distribution, activation status, and expression of cellular adhesion molecules, such as intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (CD54), very late activation antigen alpha4 (CD49d), and lymphocyte function-associated antigen 1alpha (CD11a), on circulating gamma/delta T cells, as well as their presence in the skin of SSc patients.
Methods: We studied 12 patients with SSc and 16 healthy volunteer donors. The distribution, activation status, and expression of cellular adhesion molecules were studied by flow cytometry; their presence in SSc patient skin was evaluated by immunohistochemistry.
Results: We found that the percentages and absolute numbers of peripheral blood gamma/delta T cells, CD16, CD8, CD45RO, CD25, HLA-DR, CD54, and CD11a coexpression did not differ significantly from those of the controls. CD49d gamma/delta T cells were significantly increased in SSc patients (2.3%) compared with controls (0.5%). A marked increase in the ratio of Vdelta1+ cells to gamma/delta cells was observed in the patients (72%) compared with the controls (31%). The Vdelta1+ subset showed a significant expression of both HLA-DR (83% of total Vdelta1+ cells) and CD49d (90% of total Vdelta1+ cells) compared with the controls (20.5% and 60%, respectively). In the skin, the absolute numbers of gamma/delta T cells were found in striking amounts in perivascular areas, particularly in the early edematous phase of SSc (22.58 in patients and 0 in controls); the majority of gamma/delta T cells were Vdelta1+ (19 in patients and 0 in controls). In the advanced phase of SSc, Vdelta1+ T cells were also increased compared with controls (3.5 versus 0).
Conclusion: Our results show that Vdelta1+ T cells express both adhesion molecules and activation markers, and strongly support gamma/delta T cell homing to sites of inflammation. The increase in the Vdelta1 subset suggests a selective V gene subset expansion.