BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Expression of alpha 4 beta 7 on memory T lymphocytes identifies a cell population that preferentially migrates to the gut. Detection of alpha 4 beta 7 on circulating lymphocytes may permit the identification of specific subsets trafficking between the circulation and the gut in inflammatory bowel diseases. PATIENTS: Samples and clinical details were taken from patients with Crohn's disease (CD), ulcerative colitis (UC), diverticulitis/ infectious colitis, and healthy controls. METHODS: Peripheral blood and lamina propria mononuclear cells were isolated. Cells were labelled with CD3, CD4, CD25, CD45RO or alpha 4 beta 7. RESULTS: Median levels of circulating total memory T cells (CD4+CD45RO+) were increased in CD (p < 0.01) and UC (p < 0.05). However, the proportion of systemic gut homing T cells (CD4+CD45RO+ alpha 4 beta 7+) was decreased in CD (p < 0.05), UC (p < 0.002), and inflammatory controls (p < 0.05). Levels of activated gut homing T cells (CD4+CD25+ alpha 4 beta 7+) were increased in CD (p < 0.01) and UC (p < 0.05). For both CD4+CD45RO+ and CD4+CD25+ cells, the proportion of lymphocytes coexpressing alpha 4 beta 7 was decreased compared with controls. In small and large intestine lamina propria, expression of alpha 4 beta 7+ on CD3+ cells was extensive, although it was decreased in CD (p < 0.03), UC (p < 0.05), and inflammatory controls (p < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: Circulating and mucosal gut homing lymphocyte populations are changed in patients with colonic inflammation. This may arise due to a dilution effect from recruited naive T cells, or from integrin down regulation. Changes in general CD4+ lymphocyte populations mask more subtle variations in those cells with gut homing potential.
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