Rapid migration of thymic emigrants to the colonic mucosa in ulcerative colitis patients.
ABSTRACT Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is associated with imbalances of the local intestinal immune responses, with dysregulated CD4(+) T cells contributing to the chronic inflammation. Having demonstrated altered T cell maturation in the thymus in two different mouse models of colitis, we set out to investigate whether abnormalities in T cell maturation is present in patients with ulcerative colitis (UC) or Crohn's disease (CD). Specimens were obtained from peripheral blood (CD; n = 14, UC; n = 22), colon and small intestinal specimens (CD; n = 6, UC; n = 13). As controls, peripheral blood specimens were obtained from healthy volunteers, patients with adenocarcinomas (n = 18) and colonic specimens from patients with adenocarcinomas (n = 14). Recent thymic emigrants were estimated by analysis of the normalized ratio of T cell receptor excision circles (TRECs) by real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The frequency of naive- and proliferating T lymphocytes and markers of extrathymic T cell maturation in the mucosa was analyzed by flow cytometry and real time-PCR. TREC levels in peripheral blood T lymphocytes were similar between IBD patients and controls. In contrast, UC patients demonstrated significantly increased levels of TRECs both in intraepithelial and lamina propria lymphocytes from the colonic mucosa compared to patients with adenocarcinomas and CD. However, markers for extrathymic T cell maturation in the mucosa were not different between controls and IBD patients. The increased TREC levels in mucosal but not peripheral blood lymphocytes in UC patients in the absence of increased extrathymic maturation in situ in the mucosa together demonstrate that recent thymic emigrants are recruited rapidly to the inflamed mucosa of these patients.