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Leukemia. 1998 Dec;12(12):2015-23.

Occult B cell malignancies can be detected by three-color flow cytometry in patients with cytopenias.

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  • 1HematoLogics, Inc., Seattle, WA 98104, USA.


Patients with unexplained cytopenias often present a diagnostic dilemma with minimal morphologic or cytogenetic changes to identify the underlying disease process. We have used multidimensional flow cytometry in a study of patients with cytopenias and found that this technology established, changed, or refined the diagnosis in 17/121 patients. Using the flow cytometric technique of CD45 and right angle light scatter (SSC) gating with two additional markers in a three-color analysis, eight of 121 patients were found to have hairy cell leukemia (HCL), in the absence of definitive morphologic findings of HCL. Two additional patients were found to have non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). Myeloid abnormalities, myelodysplasia (MDS) or acute leukemia was detected in seven of 56 patients with unexplained pancytopenia. Six of 65 patients identified with cytopenias resulting from lymphoid neoplasms had been referred for bone marrow transplantation (BMT) with a presumptive diagnosis of MDS, with subsequent deferral of BMT upon correct diagnosis. The screening technique is incorporated into an extensive immunophenotyping scheme to identify hematopoietic abnormalities using multidimensional flow cytometry (MDF). HCL cells (detected as low as 1.3%) reside in the same position as normal monocytes in the CD45 and SSC plots but could be distinguished from monocytes based on the expression of HLA-DR without CD11b, and expression of CD19. Further phenotyping of the abnormal population confirmed immunoglobulin light chain restriction, CD11c, and CD25 expression. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was detected as aberrant mature lymphocytes expressing B lymphoid markers, CD5 and light chain restriction. Myeloid abnormalities were identified in the myeloblast or maturing myeloid cell fractions. The flow cytometric scheme described can be used in primary diagnosis. The technique is definitive, sensitive, and stresses the importance of distinguishing lymphoid from myeloid etiology of cytopenias.

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