Mutations in the CD40 ligand (CD40L) are responsible for human hyper immunoglobulin M (IgM) syndrome. The absence of the interaction between CD40L, expressed by T lymphocytes, and the CD40 receptor present on the surface of B cells is responsible for the inability of B cells to carry out the isotype switch from IgM to the other Ig classes. This leads to a fatal immunodeficiency for which no cure exists. For these reasons, the CD40L gene is a good candidate for gene therapy studies. To investigate the possible effects of the expression of this tightly regulated gene in vivo, we produced transgenic mice in which CD40L expression was deregulated. Widespread ectopic expression appears to be lethal. Overexpression in mature T cells is compatible with life, but in one-third of the cases, mice developed atypical lymphoid proliferations which, occasionally, progressed into frank lymphomas. Even though gene therapy is one of the most promising approaches to cure human hyper IgM syndrome, these results suggest that when we modify very tightly regulated genes such as cytokines or other growth factors, particular care has to be taken to avoid excessive stimulation of the target cells.
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