High proportions of T8+ cells with inverted T4/T8 ratio were found in freshly isolated thyroid lymphocytes from patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis. In addition, about one third of thyroid infiltrating cells expressed the TAC antigen, whereas in patient peripheral blood (PB) or normal lymphocytes from PB or lymphoid organs the percentage of TAC-positive cells was consistently lower than 10%. Following negative selection with OKT4 or OKT8 monoclonal antibodies and complement, TAC+ T cells were enriched in the T8+ cell population. Thyroid infiltrating T cells from two patients underwent two different cloning procedures. In the first, single T cells were initially activated with phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) and interleukin 2 (IL-2), in the other with recombinant IL-2 (rIL-2) alone. The majority of T cell clones obtained by initial PHA-stimulation (55-65%) had the T8+ phenotype, but the frequency of T8+ clones obtained by stimulating T cells with rIL-2 alone was even higher (78 & 71%, respectively). The majority of T8+ clones elicited by PHA (35/37 & 36/38) and all the T8+ clones (36/36 & 22/22) obtained from thyroid infiltrates with initial stimulation by rIL-2 displayed cytolytic activity. Most of cytolytic T8+ clones obtained from thyroid infiltrates with both cloning procedures, displayed NK activity against human K562 and MOLT-4 target cells, but not against a NK-resistant target, such as Raji cells. These data suggest that in Hashimoto's disease a considerable proportion of thyroid infiltrating T cells are in vivo activated T8+ cytolytic T cells with NK activity, which may be of importance in determining or maintaining the tissue damage of the target gland
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