Background: The lymphocyte-depleting antibody alemtuzumab is a highly effective treatment of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS); however 50% of patients develop novel autoimmunity post-treatment. Most at risk are individuals who reconstitute their T-cell pool by proliferating residual cells, rather than producing new T-cells in the thymus; raising the possibility that autoimmunity might be prevented by increasing thymopoiesis. Keratinocyte growth factor (palifermin) promotes thymopoiesis in non-human primates. Methods: Following a dose-tolerability sub-study, individuals with RRMS (duration ≤10 years; expanded disability status scale ≤5·0; with ≥2 relapses in the previous 2 years) were randomised to placebo or 180mcg/kg/day palifermin, given for 3 days immediately prior to and after each cycle of alemtuzumab, with repeat doses at M1 and M3. The interim primary endpoint was naïve CD4+ T-cell count at M6. Exploratory endpoints included: number of recent thymic-emigrants (RTEs) and signal-joint T-cell receptor excision circles (sjTRECs)/mL of blood. The trial primary endpoint was incidence of autoimmunity at M30. Findings: At M6, individuals receiving palifermin had fewer naïve CD4+T-cells (2.229x107/L vs. 7.733x107/L; p=0.007), RTEs (16% vs. 34%) and sjTRECs/mL (1100 vs. 3396), leading to protocol-defined termination of recruitment. No difference was observed in the rate of autoimmunity between the two groups Conclusion: In contrast to animal studies, palifermin reduced thymopoiesis in our patients. These results offer a note of caution to those using palifermin to promote thymopoiesis in other settings, particularly in the oncology/haematology setting where alemtuzumab is often used as part of the conditioning regime. Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01712945 Funding: MRC and Moulton Charitable Foundation


Alasdair J. Coles, Laura Azzopardi, Onajite Kousin-Ezewu, Harpreet Kaur Mullay, Sara A.J. Thompson, Lorna Jarvis, Jessica Davies, Sarah Howlett, Daniel Rainbow, Judith Babar, Timothy J. Sadler, J. William L. Brown, Edward Needham, Karen May, Zoya G. Georgieva, Adam E. Handel, Stefano Maio, Mary Deadman, Ioanna Rota, Georg Holländer, Sarah Dawson, David Jayne, Ruth Seggewiss-Bernhardt, Daniel C. Douek, John D. Isaacs, Joanne L. Jones


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