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Keywords:

  • bexarotene;
  • cutaneous T-cell lymphoma;
  • regulatory T-cells

Please cite this paper as: Absence of modulation of CD4+CD25high regulatory T cells in CTCL patients treated with bexarotene. Experimental Dermatology 2010; 19: e95–e102.

Abstract:  Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) are a heterogeneous group of lymphoproliferative disorders, characterized by the infiltration of the epidermis by mature and activated malignant CD4+ T-lymphocytes. Retinoids such as retinoic acid and synthetic analogues have long been used alone or in combination with other therapies for CTCL. Bexarotene, the first synthetic highly selective RXR retinoid, was approved for the treatment of all stages of CTCL in patients refractory to at least one systemic therapy. Recently, six cases in which the initiation of bexarotene therapy for CTCL was associated with the progression of internal disease despite improvement of cutaneous signs and symptoms were reported. Moreover, it has been established that retinoids promote the generation of CD4+ Foxp3+ regulatory T cells, raising the question of an induction of regulatory T-cells by bexarotene. The aim of this work was to determine if bexarotene induces an increase of functional regulatory T cells which could play a role in the development of secondary extra-cutaneous lymphomas. Regulatory T cells were studied both in cutaneous biopsy specimens using an immunohistochemical analysis of CD4, CD25 and Foxp3 and in blood where proportion and functionality of circulating CD4+CD25high T-cells were determined. The study was performed in 10 patients [five patients with Sézary syndrome (SS) and five mycosis fungoïdes (MF)], treated for 6 months with bexarotene. Four healthy donors were used as controls for phenotypic and functional analysis on PBL. We found that the frequency of CD4+CD25high Treg cells was not significantly different before starting bexarotene and after 6 months of treatment in CTCL patients. However, we observed that the frequency of CD4+CD25high Treg cells before the beginning of the treatment was significantly increased compared to healthy donors. In addition, functional assays demonstrated that Foxp3 expressing CD4+CD25high T-cells were capable of suppressing autologous CD4 + CD25− T-cell proliferation. In the present work, we detected the presence of functional circulating CD4+CD25high Foxp3+ regulatory T-cells in CTCL patients, with an increased frequency compared to healthy donors. The treatment with bexarotene does not seem to affect the regulatory T-cell compartment.