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Blood. 2001 Nov 1;98(9):2633-9.

Clinical significance of CD38 expression in chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

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  • 1Cattedra e Divisione di Ematologia, Universit√† Tor Vergata, Ospedale S.Eugenio, Roma, Italy.


B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) follows heterogeneous clinical courses, and several biological parameters need to be added to the current clinical staging systems to predict which patients will experience an indolent or an aggressive outcome. This study analyzed CD38 expression by flow cytometry and soluble APO1/Fas (sAPO1/Fas), Bcl-2 (sBcl-2), and CD23 (sCD23) proteins by immunoenzymatic methods to evaluate their effect on the clinical course of 168 unselected B-CLL patients. Intermediate/high risk modified Rai stages were characterized by a higher CD38(+) B-cell number (P =.0002) and higher sCD23 levels (P <.0001). Moreover, CD38(+) B-cell percentages were significantly and directly associated both with beta(2)-microglobulin and sCD23 concentrations (P <.0001 and P =.002, respectively). Both a higher tumor burden (lymphadenopathy/splenomegaly) and a lymphocyte doubling time less than 12 months were significantly associated with higher CD38(+) percentages (P <.0001 and P =.0001, respectively). With regard to clinical outcome, progression-free survival was significantly longer (75% versus 37% at 5 years; P =.00006) in patients with lower CD38(+) B-cell percentages. Furthermore, the risk of partial or no response to fludarabine increased with increasing CD38 expression (P =.003), and a shorter overall survival (50% versus 92% at 8 years; P <.00001) characterized patients with more than 30% CD38(+) B-cell number. The predictive value of CD38 expression was maintained among the patients within the Rai intermediate risk group and was confirmed in multivariate analysis. Thus, the percentage of CD38(+) B cells appears to be an accurate predictor of clinical outcome and therefore could be used to indicate when more novel chemotherapeutic approaches are needed.

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