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Abstract

We have previously reported the presence of activated (HLA-DR+) T cells in multiple myeloma (MM) patients. These cells produce high amounts of interleukin (IL)-2 and interferon (IFN)-gamma and generate a potent antiplasma cell activity after appropriate in vitro stimulation, but they are unable in vivo to hold in check the disease. Activated T cells are highly susceptible to apoptosis, a form of programmed cell death involved in the modulation of immune responses and regulated by molecules such as Fas (CD95) and bcl-2. The aim of this study was to determine the expression of Fas and bcl-2 antigens and the susceptibility to apoptosis in T cells of MM patients. Fas+ cells were significantly higher, whereas bcl-2+ cells were significantly lower in MM patients than in the controls. MM patients with the highest number of HLA-DR+ T cells showed the highest Fas and the lowest bcl-2 expression. Two-color cytofluorometric analysis confirmed in individual cells that HLA-DR+ T cells coexpressed Fas and lacked bcl-2. Susceptibility to apoptosis was then investigated to evaluate the consequence of dysregulated Fas and bcl-2 expression. The percentage of apoptotic cells after incubation in medium alone (spontaneous apoptosis) or in the presence of methylprednisolone (MP) or anti-Fas monoclonal antibody (triggered apoptosis) was significantly higher in MM and mainly restricted to HLA-DR+ T cells. Spontaneous apoptotosis was reverted by exogenous IL-2. In conclusion, MM T cells have a dysregulated expression of Fas and bcl-2 antigens that is associated with an enhanced susceptibility to apoptosis. These data may unravel a novel mechanism by which activated MM T cells are weakened in their ability to exert an effective antitumor activity in vivo.