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Keywords:

  • newborn;
  • CD4+CD45RA+;
  • CD4+CD45RO+;
  • in vitro conversion

The reduced incidence of graft versus host disease following the use of human cord blood as a source of stem cells for bone marrow reconstitution challenges our understanding of the immunocompetence of newborn T cells. Newborn CD4+ T cells express mainly the CD45RA phenotype and have been considered to respond comparably to adult CD4+ T cells exhibiting the CD45RA phenotype. We compared the in vitro kinetics of phenotypic conversion of newborn and adult CD4+CD45RA+ T cells to CD4+CD45RO+ T cells. The cytokine profile and B cell helper activity of the converted CD4+CD45RO+ T cell population were also determined. Newborn CD4+CD45RA+ T cells were converted to CD4+CD45RO+ with significantly faster time kinetics than adult CD4+CD45RA+ T cells, following either phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) or anti-CD2 activation. Freshly purified newborn naive T cells did not produce IL-2, IL-4 or interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) following stimulation, whereas adult naive T cells secreted IL-2 and adult-derived CD4+CD45RO+ T cells secreted all three cytokines under the same stimulatory conditions. However, newborn and adult CD4+CD45RA+ T cells, following primary stimulation and maturation in vitro, acquired the ability to secrete a Th1-type cytokine profile of IL-2 and IFN-γ after secondary stimulation. Newborn CD4+ naive T cells that acquired the CD45RO phenotype in vitro also gained B cell helper activity equivalent to that of adult in vitro matured CD4+ naive T cells. These findings suggest that newborn and adult CD4+CD45RA+ T cell subsets are differentially responsive to various stimuli. They show that newborn CD4+CD45RA+ naive T cells can transform more quickly than their adult counterparts into functionally equivalent CD4+CD45RO+ T cells, a process that may be important to counteract the immature immune environment which exists in the newborn.