CD4+ T cells are responsible for the progressive lung damage seen in patients with chronic beryllium disease (CBD), a granulomatous lung disorder in which antigen-specific, Th1-type cytokine-secreting T cells have been characterized. Compared to beryllium (Be)-sensitized subjects, an increased number of Be-responsive T cells are present in the blood of CBD patients.
The aim of this study was to determine whether the number of Be-specific T cells in blood predicted the development of CBD in a cohort of Be-exposed subjects.
Using IFN-γ ELISPOT and proliferation-based assays, we determined the frequency and proliferative capacity of Be-responsive T cells in blood.
Compared with the Be lymphocyte proliferation test which detected an abnormal Be-induced proliferative response in 11 of 260 (4.2%) workers from a Be-machining facility, IFN-γ ELISPOT detected a sensitization rate of 10% (χ2 = 55.7; P < 0.0001). A significant positive correlation was also noted between the number of Be-responsive CD4+ T cells in blood and lung of CBD patients. Importantly, the transition from Be sensitization to CBD was associated with an increased number of antigen-specific T cells in blood.
These findings have important implications for Be-induced disease and potentially other immune-mediated disorders, suggesting that the frequency of antigen-specific T cells in blood can serve as a noninvasive biomarker to predict disease development and severity of the Be-specific CD4+ T cell alveolitis.
These findings suggest that the number of Be-responsive T cells in the circulation can serve as a biomarker of disease progression and as an estimate of the severity of Be-induced lung inflammation.