Hyperthermia (HT), in combination with other conventional therapeutic modalities, has become a promising approach in cancer therapy. In addition to heat-induced apoptosis, an augmented immunological effect is considered to be a benefit of hyperthermic treatment over chemo- or radiotherapy. Here, we investigated the effect of regional HT targeting the liver on immune cells, especially T cells and antigen-presenting cells, which are important in recognizing and eliminating tumor cells and pathogens such as viruses. In healthy volunteers exposed to such regional HT, both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells that express an activation marker CD69 increased transiently at 1 h post-treatment, with a subsequent decrease to base levels at 6 h after the treatment. At 24 h post-treatment, the percentage of CD69-positive cells significantly increased again but only among CD8+ T cells. IFN-γ production from PHA-stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells was gradually and significantly increased in the 2 days following the heating procedure, peaking at 36 h post-treatment. Furthermore, we found marked increases in plasma levels of IL-1β and IL-6 starting at 24 h post-treatment. With regard to the number of each leukocyte subpopulation, a transient and dramatic decrease in the number of a subset of monocytes, CD14+ CD16- cells, was observed at 1 h after the hyperthermic treatment, suggesting that the regional HT aimed at the liver may have influenced the extravasation of blood monocytes. No significant changes in T-cell activities or monocyte counts were observed in the volunteers exposed to heating of the lungs or the legs. These results suggest that heating of the liver may efficiently induce cellular immune responses to liver cancers.
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