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Cytometry B Clin Cytom. 2007 Sep;72(5):344-53.

Prevalence and natural history of monoclonal and polyclonal B-cell lymphocytosis in a residential adult population.

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Division of Health Studies, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Atlanta, Georgia 30333, USA.



Monoclonal B-cells can be detected in the peripheral blood of some adults without B-cell malignancies, a condition recently termed monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis (MBL). The risk of individuals with MBL progressing to a B-cell malignancy is unknown. Polyclonal B-cell lymphocytosis (PCBL) has not been systematically studied in the general population.


We obtained lymphocyte subset counts on 1,926 residential adults aged 40-76 years in a series of environmental health studies between 1991 and 1994. We then conducted two follow-ups in 1997 and 2003 on consenting participants with B-cell lymphocytosis, which included nine participants with MBL. To ascertain the clinical implications of MBL, we reviewed medical records and death certificates.


The overall prevalence of MBL was 0.57% (11/1,926): nine cases at baseline and two additional cases identified at follow-up. Two (19%) MBL cases subsequently developed a B-cell malignancy; MBL persisted in the remaining nine cases (81%). All PCBL cases where no clone emerged regressed to normal B-cell counts over the follow-up period. MBL was significantly more frequent in residents near a hazardous waste site than in the control populations (age-adjusted OR 6.2; 95%CI 1.1-36.2).


MBL confers an elevated risk for developing a B-cell malignancy, although it occurs only in a minority of cases. PCBL is most often a transient state, but a monoclonal population can emerge and persist. Prospective studies are needed to distinguish stable from progressive forms of B-cell lymphocytosis and to clarify the etiologic role of environmental exposures.

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