The role of T regulatory (Treg) cells in human cancer has not yet been clarified. We assessed the presence and function of CD4+ and CD8+ Treg cell subsets in the peripheral blood of patients with lung cancer (LC) and pleural mesothelioma (PM). We found a low but significant increase in the number of CD4+ T cells with phenotype and functional features of Treg cells in LC patients compared to normal healthy controls (NHC). Furthermore, total CD4+ T cells from LC pa- tients proliferated less than cells from controls, suggesting that the increase in the CD4+ Treg cell pool has func- tional importance. LC patients also showed an expansion of the CD8+CD28- T cell subset and these cells ex- pressed Foxp3 mRNA, as recently observed in alloanti- gen-specific CD8+CD28- T suppressor cells. No varia- tion of peripheral Treg cell subsets was found in patients with PM, a disease with a predominantly localized nature. However, the lack of correlation between cancer stage and the number or the function of peripheral Treg cells in LC patients refuted the hypothesis that these cells are in- volved in tumor spreading. A possible involvement of the peripheral Treg cell pool in cancer development and/or in inducing systemic immunosuppression in LC patients can be hypothesized.
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