Immune reconstitution in children following chemotherapy for haematological malignancies: a long-term follow-up


Cornelis M. van Tilburg, Department of Paediatric Haematology/Oncology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Room number KC.03·063·0, P.O. Box 85090, 3508 AB Utrecht, The Netherlands. E-mail:


Modern intensive chemotherapy for childhood haematological malignancies has led to high cure rates, but has detrimental effects on the immune system. There is little knowledge concerning long-term recovery of the adaptive immune system. Here we studied the long-term reconstitution of the adaptive immune system in 31 children treated for haematological malignancies between July 2000 and October 2006. We performed detailed phenotypical and functional analyses of the various B and T cell subpopulations until 5 years after chemotherapy. We show that recovery of newly-developed transitional B cells and naive B and T cells occurred rapidly, within months, whereas recovery of the different memory B and T cell subpopulations was slower and incomplete, even after 5 years post-chemotherapy. The speed of B and T cell recovery was age-independent, despite a significant contribution of the thymus to T cell recovery. Plasmablast B cell levels remained above normal and immunoglobulin levels normalised within 1 week. Functional T cell responses were normal, even within the first year post-chemotherapy. This study shows that after intensive chemotherapy for haematological malignancies in children, numbers of several memory B and T cell subpopulations were decreased on the long term, while functional T cell responses were not compromised.