Immunohistological staining of skin from normal donors and bone marrow transplant recipients was undertaken using antibodies to two vessel associated adhesion molecules, endothelial leucocyte adhesion molecule-1 (ELAM-1). In normal skin ELAM-1 staining was restricted to a variable but generally small number of endothelial cells which were significantly increased in graft-versus-host disease (GvHD), but only when the fully developed histological picture of epidermal basal damage and leucocytic infiltration was present. All other biopsy specimens from marrow recipients taken before or after transplantation were similar to those of normal controls even in the presence of a clinical rash consistent with early GvHD. Although VCAM-1 positivity was seen on a few endothelial cells in normal skin, staining was mainly observed on dermal dendritic cells surrounding blood vessels and adnexal structures. In specimens with histological evidence of GvHD, positive perivascular dendritic cells were increased and were accompanied by the appearance of large numbers of similar cells dispersed throughout the upper dermis. Biopsy specimens from marrow recipients before and after transplantation resembled those from normal donors except for the presence of a rash after transplantation when some specimens, which lacked the leucocytic infiltrate diagnostic of GvHD, showed an increase in VCAM-1 positive cells, particularly in the upper dermis. The identification of these cells may therefore be useful in diagnosing early GvHD.
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