Immunology of Down syndrome: A review



Subjects with Down syndrome (DS) have a high mortality due to infections and a high risk of developing malignancies. These observations, together with the demonstration of a frequent occurrence of HBsAg carrier state and of autoantibodies, have prompted investigations of the immune function in DS. Thymic morphological and functional abnormalities have been demonstrated. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells of DS subjects have been shown to include a high number of T lymphocytes with low avidity for sheep erythrocytes and a very high percentage of cells with an NK phenotype. However, NK activity is low in DS. Production of some important cytokines, such as IL-2, is depressed, thus contributing to T-cell derangement. Abnormalities of the B-cell compartment were also demonstrated, with a tendency towards high IgG and low IgM serum levels. Controversial results have been obtained with regard to antigen-specific antibody response. Also phagocytes of DS subjects display some characteristic functional impairments, with low chemotactic ability and reduced production of oxygen radicals. Despite the clearly established and rather detailed evidence of immune derangements, therapeutic trials have been anecdotal and resulted in marginal effects. HBV vaccination is highly advisable in DS because of the high risk of becoming chronic HBV carriers once infected.