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J Immunol. 2002 Dec 1;169(11):6594-603.

Ongoing in vivo immunoglobulin class switch DNA recombination in chronic lymphocytic leukemia B cells.

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Division of Molecular Immunology, Department of Pathology, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, New York 10021, USA.


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) results from the expansion of malignant CD5(+) B cells that usually express IgD and IgM. These leukemic cells can give rise in vivo to clonally related IgG(+) or IgA(+) elements. The requirements and modalities of this process remain elusive. Here we show that leukemic B cells from 14 of 20 CLLs contain the hallmarks of ongoing Ig class switch DNA recombination (CSR), including extrachromosomal switch circular DNAs and circle transcripts generated by direct S micro -->Sgamma, S micro -->Salpha, and S micro -->Sepsilon as well as sequential Sgamma-->Salpha and Sgamma-->Sepsilon CSR. Similar CLL B cells express transcripts for activation-induced cytidine deaminase, a critical component of the CSR machinery, and contain germline I(H)-C(H) and mature V(H)DJ(H)-C(H) transcripts encoded by multiple Cgamma, Calpha, and Cepsilon genes. Ongoing CSR occurs in only a fraction of the CLL clone, as only small proportions of CD5(+)CD19(+) cells express surface IgG or IgA and lack IgM and IgD. In vivo class-switching CLL B cells down-regulate switch circles and circle transcripts in vitro unless exposed to exogenous CD40 ligand and IL-4. In addition, CLL B cells that do not class switch in vivo activate the CSR machinery and secrete IgG, IgA, or IgE upon in vitro exposure to CD40 ligand and IL-4. These findings indicate that in CLL at least some members of the malignant clone actively differentiate in vivo along a pathway that induces CSR. They also suggest that this process is elicited by external stimuli, including CD40 ligand and IL-4, provided by bystander immune cells.

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