Previous studies of blood cells from atomic bomb survivors have shown that frequencies of chromosome aberrations and somatic mutations are elevated in heavily exposed survivors and that T-cell functions and the number of mature T cells are decreased in the survivors who were exposed to radiation as adults. Current progress in flow cytometry allows a sophisticated analysis of various subsets of T, B and NK cells. In the present study, proportions of such subsets in peripheral blood lymphocytes from atomic bomb survivors (159 survivors estimated to be exposed to ≥1.5 Gy) and 252 controls were measured using multiple combinations of monoclonal antibodies to lymphocyte differentiation antigens to investigate whether the previous radiation exposure had altered the composition of the subsets. Among T-cell subsets, the proportion of CD4+ T-cell subsets was decreased significantly in the heavily exposed survivors; this tendency was apparent for the <tex-math>${\rm CD}4^{+}{\rm CD}45{\rm RA}^{+}$</tex-math> naive T-cell subset. However, there were no significant differences in the proportions of CD8+ T-cell subsets between the exposed survivors and controls. As for the B-cell subsets, the proportion of both CD5+ and <tex-math>${\rm CD}5^{-}$</tex-math> B cells as well as <tex-math>${\rm CD}23^{+}$</tex-math> and <tex-math>${\rm CD}23^{-}$</tex-math> B cells increased in the heavily exposed survivors. Further, no effect of radiation was found in the proportion of NK-cell subsets. These results strongly suggest that previous radiation exposure altered the composition of T and B cells in the peripheral blood of atomic bomb survivors, and they raise the possibility that atomic bomb radiation may have affected the developmental processes of T and B cells.

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