Four patients who received bone marrow transplants were studied sequentially during the posttransplant period to define the pattern of recovering lymphoid cell types. Three patients received T cell-depleted, HLA-matched marrow, and one received untreated marrow from an identical twin. Blood lymphoid cells were labeled with 25 different pairs of monoclonal antibodies. In each sample, one antibody was conjugated to fluorescein and one to phycoerythrin, thus allowing simultaneous assessment of the expression of the two markers using the fluorescence activated cell sorter. A total of 14 antibodies were used, routinely including HLE, Leu-M3, Leu-4, Leu-1, Leu-5, Leu-9, Leu-6, Leu-2, Leu-3, HLA-DR, Leu-7, Leu-11, Leu-15, and Leu-12. Other antibodies were used to further define some populations. This study has allowed us to define six distinct cell types that have appeared in all four patients by day 90 posttransplantation, and which account for 90-100% of all circulating lymphoid cells. These cell types are (a) T helper cells expressing Leu-1, Leu-4, Leu-9, Leu-5, Leu-3, and variable amounts of HLA-DR; (b) T suppressor cells expressing Leu-1, Leu-4, Leu-9, Leu-5, Leu-2, and variable amounts of HLA-DR; (c) B cells expressing Leu-12, B1, HLA-DR, IgD, and IgM, but none of the T cell antigens; (d) an unusual B cell phenotype (Leu-1 B) expressing all of the B cell markers, and also having low amounts of Leu-1, but none of the other T cell antigens; (e) natural killer (NK) cells expressing Leu-11, Leu-15, Leu-5 but none of the other T cell or B cell markers; (f) NK cells expressing Leu-11, Leu-15, Leu-5, and low levels of Leu-2. Both NK types also express Leu-7 on some, but not all cells. The relative frequencies of these cell types varied among the patients and with time, but the striking findings were the presence of relatively few mature T cells, large numbers of NK cells, and the preponderance of the unusual Leu-1 B cell over conventional B cells in all three patients who developed B cells. Sorting experiments confirmed the NK activity of the major NK cell phenotypes, and DNA analysis confirmed that all of the cells studied were of donor origin. In addition, analysis of Ig genes in one patient showed that the Leu-1 B cells were not clonally rearranged.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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