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The function of the minor subset of T lymphocytes bearing the gamma delta T cell antigen receptor is uncertain. Although some gamma delta T cells react to microbial products, responsiveness has only rarely been demonstrated toward a bacterial antigen from a naturally occurring human infection. Synovial fluid lymphocytes from patients with
Lyme arthritis contain a large proportion of gamma delta cells that proliferate in response to the causative spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi. Furthermore, synovial gamma delta T cell clones express elevated and sustained levels of the ligand for Fas (APO-1, CD95) compared to alpha beta T cells, and induce apoptosis of Fashigh CD4+ synovial lymphocytes. The findings suggest that gamma delta T cells contribute to defense in human infections, as well as manifest an immunoregulatory function at inflammatory sites by a Fas-dependent process.