Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) are found in most human infiltrating ductal breast carcinomas. In studies of other tumors, TIL were capable of activation by IL-2, both in vitro and in vivo, to produce selective tumor cytolysis. Specific TIL-mediated tumor cytolysis in human breast tumors has recently been reported. The large numbers of TIL within human breast cancers imply that an immune response is occurring, since many of these cells express HLA class II as a late activation marker. However, the degree of early activation of the native TIL in breast tumors has not been fully investigated. Early activation markers CD69, CD43, and CD38 together with the IL-2R (CD25) and IL-2 cytokine were examined using mAbs and tissue section immunohistology. In situ hybridization was used to detect IL-2 mRNA (IL-2 mRNA) in parallel with immunohistochemical localization of IL-2. The results revealed the expression of CD69, CD43, and CD38, but markedly low CD25 (IL-2R) and IL-2 protein expression by the TIL. This strongly indicates that the TIL are an activated population of T cells that shows a deficiency in IL-2 protein and IL-2R expression despite adequate levels of IL-2 mRNA. The mechanism for apparent inhibition of IL-2 production and IL-2R expression in the presence of IL-2 mRNA is currently unclear; however, this may explain the relative anergic state of native TIL.

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