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Blood. 2009 Nov 19;114(21):4687-95. doi: 10.1182/blood-2009-01-201731. Epub 2009 Sep 10.

VH4-34+ hairy cell leukemia, a new variant with poor prognosis despite standard therapy.

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  • 1Laboratories of Molecular Biology, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.


Hairy cell leukemia variant (HCLv) presents with high disease burden, lack of typical antigens like CD25, and poor response to standard treatments like cladribine. Occasionally, patients with classic HCL respond poorly. Clinical and molecular features of HCL and HCLv has not been compared. Rearrangements expressing immunoglobulin VH chain were sequenced, including 22 from 20 patients with HCLv and 63 from 62 patients with classic HCL. Most patients were seeking relapsed/refractory trials, representing a poor-prognosis population. VH4-34, a gene commonly used in autoimmune disorders, was observed in 8 (40%) HCLv and 6 (10%) classic (P = .004) HCL patients. Compared with 71 VH4-34(-) rearrangements, 14 VH4-34(+) rearrangements were more frequently (P < .001) unmutated, defined as greater than 98% homologous to germline sequence. VH4-34(+) patients had greater white blood cell counts at diagnosis (P = .002), lower response rate (P < .001) and progression-free survival (P = .007) after initial cladribine, and shorter overall survival from diagnosis (P < .001). Response and survival were more closely related to VH4-34 status than to whether or not patients had HCLv. VH4-34(+) HCL is an important disorder that only partly overlaps with the previously described HCLv. Response to initial single-agent cladribine therapy is suboptimal; these patients should be considered for alternative approaches, including antibody-related therapy.

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