The objectives of the study were to characterize the production, function and survival of T lymphocytes of children with prolonged fetal exposure to dexamethasone for anti-Ro/SS-A antibodies associated congenital complete heart block. The analysis of thymic function, studied by measuring the level of T-cell receptor excision circles, was performed by real time PCR, the composition of T-cell subpopulation was evaluated by flow cytometry and the T-cell diversity was assayed by heteroduplex analysis. T-cell competence was gauged at two functional levels by determining the proliferation and the number of T-cell divisions and by measuring gamma-interferon production after mitogenic stimulation. We observed that the thymic output, distribution of T-cell subsets, thymidine incorporation, number of T-cell divisions, and y-interferon production were comparable to those of age-matched control. On the contrary, heteroduplex analysis demonstrated the presence of both polyclonal and oligoclonal peripheral T-cell repertoires. In conclusion, the analysis of the T-cell compartment in children with prolonged intrauterine exposure to high dose dexamethasone did not disclose any relevant abnormality, except a restriction of T-cell receptor diversity in some patients.
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