Peripheral blood T-lymphocyte subsets, evaluated by means of a series of monoclonal antibodies, were assessed in 14 patients affected by thalassaemia intermedia, 7 of them previously splenectomized. A significant reduction of T+4 cells (‘helper’ T cells) was found in almost all patients, whereas T+8 cells (‘suppressor/cytotoxic’) showed a marked increase only in splenectomized subjects. Together with these quantitative T-subset abnormalities, which seemed to be partly affected by either splenectomy or high serum iron levels, an unusual circulating T-cell subpopulation labelled by T6 monoclonal antibody was detected in all patients. Complete disappearance of T- cells (‘thymo-cyte-like’ T lymphocytes) and normalization of the T4/T8 ratio was observed after ‘in vitro’ incubation of patient’s lymphocytes with a crude thymus extract (Thymostimulin). This would suggest the presence of a so far unreported thymus-dependent defect of T-lymphocyte phenotypic maturation occurring in thalassaemia intermedia.

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