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Keywords:

  • post-traumatic splenectomy;
  • CD4+CD45RA+ T cells ;
  • hepatitis A vaccination;
  • naive T cells;
  • primary immune response

Congenital or acquired absence of the spleen and functional hyposplenism are associated with abnormalities of host defence such as an increased susceptibility to infection with encapsulated bacteria. The effects of the lack of the spleen on cell-mediated immunity are largely unknown. In the present study we have investigated peripheral blood lymphocyte subpopulations in healthy adults who had undergone splenectomy because of severe abdominal trauma > 4 years before the study. The results show a significant reduction in the percentage of CD4+ T cells due to a selective and long-term decrease in the percentage of CD4+CD45RA+ lymphocytes, the CD4+ T-cell subset mainly involved in primary immune responses to newly encountered antigens. Levels of the reciprocal CD45RO+CD4+ T-cell subset were comparable between splenectomized and control individuals, as were lymphoproliferative responses and IFN-gamma production to recall antigens. Decreased levels of CD4+CD45RA+ cells were accompanied by an impairment in primary immune responsiveness, as assessed by investigating T-cell proliferation to stimulation with keyhole limpet haemocyanin and by measuring antibody responses following primary immunization with a clinically relevant T-dependent antigen, hepatitis A vaccine, in vivo. These findings suggest a possible role of the spleen in the generation, maintenance and/or differentiation of naive, unprimed T cells or their precursors, which might have a possible functional relevance for primary immune responses following splenectomy.