In Hodgkin lymphoma (HL), the malignant Hodgkin Reed-Sternberg (HRS) cells constitute only 0.5% of 10% of the diseased tissue. The surrounding cellular infiltrate is enriched with T cells that are hypothesized to modulate antitumor immunity. We show that a marker of regulatory T cells, LAG-3, is strongly expressed on infiltrating lymphocytes present in proximity to HRS cells. Circulating regulatory T cells (CD4+ CD25hi CD45 ROhi, CD4+ CTLA4hi, and CD4+ LAG-3hi) were elevated in HL patients with active disease when compared with remission. Longitudinal profiling of EBV-specific CD8+ T-cell responses in 94 HL patients revealed a selective loss of interferon-γ expression by CD8+ T cells specific for latent membrane proteins 1 and 2 (LMP1/2), irrespective of EBV tissue status. Intratumoral LAG-3 expression was associated with EBV tissue positivity, whereas FOXP3 was linked with neither LAG-3 nor EBV tissue status. The level of LAG-3 and FOXP3 expression on the tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes was coincident with impairment of LMP1/2-specific T-cell function. In vitro pre-exposure of peripheral blood mononuclear cells to HRS cell line supernatant significantly increased the expansion of regulatory T cells and suppressed LMP-specific T-cell responses. Deletion of CD4+ LAG-3+ T cells enhanced LMP-specific reactivity. These findings indicate a pivotal role for regulatory T cells and LAG-3 in the suppression of EBV-specific cell-mediated immunity in HL.

  • Submitted April 5, 2006.
  • Accepted May 18, 2006.
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