We have investigated the T cell populations in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of chronic progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. Individual T cells from the CSF and blood were cloned before expansion and their clonotypes were defined by analysis of rearranged T cell receptor beta chain and gamma chain genes. 87 T cell clones from blood and CSF of two patients with chronic progressive MS were examined for common TCR gene rearrangement patterns. In one patient, 18 of 28 CSF-derived T cell clones demonstrated common TCR gene rearrangements indicating oligoclonal T cell populations; in the blood, two patterns were found twice among 26 T cell clones. In another patient, 5 of 27 CSF-derived clones had common TCR gene rearrangement patterns. In contrast, no common beta chain rearrangement pattern was found among 67 T cell clones derived from the blood or CSF of a patient with subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, among 20 clones from the CSF of a patient with herpes zoster meningoencephalitis, or among 66 clones from a normal subject. A subject with atypical, fatal MS of 8-mo duration was also studied and did not have oligoclonal T cells in the CSF or blood. These results demonstrate that distinct oligoclonal T cell populations can be found in the CSF immune compartment of subjects with nonmalignant inflammatory disease and they can create a new avenue for the investigation of the specificity of the T cell response within the central nervous system.

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