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Rev Clin Exp Hematol. 2000 Mar;4(1):22-47.

Morphological and immunophenotypic features of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

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Academic Department of Haematology and Cytogenetics, Royal Marsden Hospital and Institute of Cancer Research, Fulham Road, London, SW3 6JJ, UK.


In this review, we summarize the morphological features and immunophenotypic profile of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells, discuss the value of these investigations as front line diagnostic tests, and emphasize their correlation with the clinical features, disease progression, molecular genetics and pathogenesis of CLL. In CLL, the morphology of the circulating cells is characteristic and typical in the majority of cases. However, 15% of patients, either at diagnosis or during the course of the disease, show atypical morphology reflected by either (1) an increased (> 10%) number of circulating prolymphocytes, designated CLL/PL, or (2) an increased (> 15%) number of circulating lymphoplasmacytic and cleaved cells, designated 'atypical' CLL. There is strong evidence of a close association between atypical morphology (CLL/PL) and atypical (CLL) and clinical features, e.g. disease progression, advanced stage and survival, molecular genetics, particularly trisomy 12, but also the rare cases with t(11;14) or t(14;19), p53 abnormalities, unmutated immunoglobulin (Ig) VH genes and origin of the cell (naive, pregerminal center cell). CLL cells have a distinct immunological repertoire different from that of other lymphoproliferative disorders. The typical CLL phenotype is CD5+, CD23+, FMC7-, weak expression of surface Ig (sIg) and weak or absent expression of membrane CD22 and CD79b. The latter marker identifies an extracellular epitope of the B-cell receptor (BCR) beta chain and its weak or absent expression in CLL may derive from the expression of a truncated form. This, together with the low expression of CD22, might explain the abnormal signal transduction of CLL cells similar to that of anergic B lymphocytes. Because no single marker is specific for CLL, a composite phenotype considering this set of 5 or 6 markers compounded into a scoring system helps to distinguish CLL from the other B-cell malignancies. Immunophenotypic analysis has also been shown to be useful for minimal residual disease detection and adds valuable prognostic information because the expression of certain markers, such as FMC7 or CD38, seems to be associated with a poor outcome. In addition, CLL cells express a variety of Bcl-2 family proteins with a profile that favors inhibition of apoptosis which, together with the interaction with microenvironmental (e.g. stromal) cells and the release of cytokines, explains the long life span and subsequent accumulation of CLL cells in various organs. Despite controversies relating to the expression of adhesion molecules (selectins and integrins) in CLL cells, it appears that some of these molecules do play a role in the pathogenesis, biology and clinical patterns of the disease. In conclusion, morphology and immunophenotype are the two essential investigations, which must be carried out in all cases of CLL. Both provide relevant information in terms of diagnosis, course of the disease, prognosis and pathogenesis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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