The local xenogeneic graft-vs-host reaction (XGVHR) was used as a practical bioassay to assess T lymphocyte function and immunocompetence among cancer patients. Positive XGVHR was found in 99.5% of normal donors, 70% of cancer patients with early stage disease, and 30% of cancer patients with metastatic disease (p < 0.001). A minimum of 4.5 × 106 immunocompetent T lymphocytes are necessary in order to elicit a positive XGVHR. Negative reactions among cancer patients are characterized by the lack of edema fluid accumulation and the appearance of the host basophils at the test site. This suggests that insufficient amounts of lymphokines are being released by the incompetent T lymphocytes, whereas the host is capable of mounting a rejection reaction as evidenced by the appearance of the basophils. Preliminary evidence suggests that the immunologic defect detected by the XGVHR cannot be corrected by monocyte depletion. The identification of putative suppressor T cell subsets may bear immunotherapeutic implications in the future.

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