Peripheral blood T cell phenotypes have been analysed in serial samples from patients with multiple sclerosis, their unaffected relatives and controls using a panel of antibodies chosen to distinguish T suppressor and activated suppressor cells from other CD8 lymphocytes. Overall, the percentage of Leu 2a cells correlated with alterations in the Leu 2a/15 suppressor sub-population (r = 0.79, p less than 0.001). Fewer circulating Leu 2a and Leu 2a/15 positive cells were identified in multiple sclerosis patients than unaffected individuals but there was no alteration in percentage of activated (Leu 2a/DR) CD8 cells. These findings suggest that the fluctuations in CD8 cells, characteristic of patients with multiple sclerosis, are due to alterations in T suppressor phenotype; this may then lower the threshold for activation of other T cell subpopulations.
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