Patients with Hodgkin's disease have increased numbers of spontaneously proliferating circulating lymphocytes. In order to test the relationship between this phenomenon and the in vitro mitogenic response, both spontaneous lymphocyte proliferation and the response to stimulation with phytohaemagglutinin were quantified. In addition, the proliferating lymphocytes were identified autoradiographically and characterized for the presence of lymphocyte surface markers and monocyte markers. Spontaneous thymidine incorporation by lymphocytes from patients with Hodgkin's disease was increased compared with normal controls, and the phytohaemagglutinin response was depressed. A significant inverse relationship was demonstrated between the spontaneous thymidine incorporation on day 0 and the phytohaemagglutinin response on day 3 (P is less than 0.01). The activated lymphocytes were heterogeneous with respect to both morphology and surface markers. These data suggest that the circulating proliferating lymphocytes in Hodgkin's disease are reactive cells and that the quantitative depression in cellular immunity demonstrable in these patients may be related to this chronic reactivity
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