A case of leukemia escape from an HLA-specific cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response in a recipient of bone marrow transplantation is presented. Only the expression of HLA-B51, which was a mismatched HLA locus in the graft-versus-host direction, was down-regulated in post-transplant leukemia blasts compared with that in pre-transplant blasts. All CTL clones, that were isolated from the recipient's blood when acute graft-versus-host disease developed, recognized the mismatched B *51:01 molecule in a peptide-dependent manner. The pre-transplant leukemia blasts were lysed by CTL clones, whereas the post-transplant leukemia blasts were not lysed by any CTL clones. The IFN-γ ELISPOT assay revealed that B *51:01-reactive T lymphocytes accounted for the majority of the total alloreactive T lymphocytes in the blood just before leukemia relapse. These data suggest that immune escape of leukemia blasts from CTL pressure toward a certain HLA molecule can lead to clinical relapse after bone marrow transplantation.
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