BACKGROUND: Impaired Fas-induced apoptosis of lymphocytes in vitro is a principal feature of the autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome (ALPS). We studied six children with ALPS whose lymphocytes had normal sensitivity to Fas-induced apoptosis in vitro. METHODS: Susceptibility to Fas-mediated apoptosis and the Fas gene were analyzed in purified subgroups of T cells and other mononuclear cells from six patients with ALPS type III. RESULTS: Heterozygous dominant Fas mutations were detected in the polyclonal double-negative T cells from all six patients. In two patients, these mutations were found in a fraction of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, monocytes, and CD34+ hematopoietic precursors, but not in hair or mucosal epithelial cells. CONCLUSIONS: Somatic heterozygous mutations of Fas can cause a sporadic form of ALPS by allowing lymphoid precursors to resist the normal process of cell death.
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