Autoimmune thyroid diseases are characterized by intrathyroidal infiltration of CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes reactive to self-thyroid antigens. Early studies analysing T cell receptor (TCR) Vα gene usage have shown oligoclonal expansion of intrathyroidal T lymphocytes but not peripheral blood T cells. However, TCR Vβ diversity of the isolated CD4+ and CD8+ T cell compartments in the peripheral blood has not been characterized fully in these patients. We performed complementarity-determining region 3 (CDR3) spectratyping as well as flow cytometric analysis for the TCR Vβ repertoire in peripheral CD4+ and CD8+ T cells from 13 patients with Graves’ disease and 17 patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Polyclonal TCR Vβ repertoire was demonstrated by flow cytometry in both diseases. In contrast, CDR3 spectratyping showed significantly higher skewing of TCR Vβ in peripheral CD8+ T cells but not CD4+ T cells among patients with Hashimoto's thyroiditis compared with healthy adults. We found trends towards a more skewed CDR3 size distribution in those patients having disease longer than 5 years and requiring thyroid hormone replacement. Patients with Graves’ disease exhibited no skewing both in CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. These findings indicate that clonal expansion of CD8+ T cells in Hashimoto's thyroiditis can be detected in peripheral blood and may support the role of CD8+ T cells in cell-mediated autoimmune attacks on the thyroid gland in Hashimoto's thyroiditis
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