A phenotypic and functional analysis of the circulating natural killer (NK) cell population was carried out in a series of patients with hairy cell leukaemia (HCL). The overall mean NK activity of both the mononuclear and T cell fractions was reduced compared to that of normal controls (466 lytic units (lu) v 573 lu and 226 lu v 381 lu, respectively), though this difference did not reach statistical significance (P less than 0.05). Individual analysis of the data showed that in five out of 15 and in seven out of 16 cases the K562 killing by the mononuclear and T cells respectively was below the lowest s.d. limit for normal subjects. This reduced NK function was associated with a decreased ability of the effector cells to bind the target. The NK response to exogenous human leucocyte interferon was also generally depressed in cases with a low basal NK activity. The functional studies were complemented with the evaluation of the membrane expression of NK associated antigens. The percentage of circulating T cells recognized by the monoclonal antibody (MoAb) Leu-7 was significantly higher (P less than 0.001) in HCL than in normal blood (25.2% +/- 10.2 v 11.9 +/- 5.9 s.d.). However, the reactivity with two other NK-related MoAb, Leu-11 and AB8.28, was significantly lower (7.1% +/- 6.9 and 9.8% +/- 8.5; P less than 0.002) than with Leu-7 and moderately reduced compared with that of normal circulating T cells (11.7% + 6.1 & 12% + 5.5). These findings suggest that in a proportion of patients with HCL there is an impairment of the NK compartment, which may contribute towards the occurrence of the infective complications which are the primary cause of death in this disease.
R Foa, F Lauria, P Lusso
Clinical and experimental immunology