The majority of human intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes (iIELs) are CD8+ T cells that use the T cell receptor (TCR)-alpha/beta. Previous studies have shown that iIELs isolated from segments of small intestine or colon contain one or several dominant alpha/beta T cell clones. It is not known whether these clones expand only locally in response to a particular antigen or whether they are widely distributed throughout the intestine. To address this question, iIELs were purified from near the proximal and distal margins in a series of intestinal resections for noninflammatory diseases. TCR-beta expression was then assessed by semiquantitative polymerase chain reaction amplification, analysis of N-region length, and DNA sequencing. The previously described oligoclonal expansion of iIELs was confirmed in each sample. Identical dominant clones were identified in the proximal and distal samples from most cases, including samples taken from sites as distant as the transverse and sigmoid colon or rectum. Distinct clones were found in only one case with samples from the terminal ileum and transverse colon. These results demonstrate that a relatively small number of widely dispersed T cell clones comprise the majority of cells in the human intestinal mucosa.

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