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Oncology. 2015;89 Suppl 1:7-15. doi: 10.1159/000431058. Epub 2015 Nov 10.

Molecular Pathology of Adult T-Cell Leukemia/Lymphoma.

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Department of Pathology, School of Medicine, Kurume University, Kurume, Japan.


Adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (ATLL) is a peripheral T-cell neoplasm of highly pleomorphic lymphoid cells. ATLL is usually widely disseminated, and it is caused by human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1). It is a disease with a long latency, and affected individuals are usually exposed to the virus very early in life. The cumulative incidence of ATLL is estimated to be 2.5% among HTLV-1 carriers. ATLL cells express CD2, CD3, CD5, CD4, and CD25, as well as CCR4 and FoxP3 of the regulatory T-cell marker. HTLV-1 is causally linked to ATLL, but infection alone is not sufficient to result in neoplastic transformation. A significant finding in this connection is that the Tax viral protein leads to transcriptional activation of many genes, while the HTLV-1 basic leucine zipper factor is thought to be important for T-cell proliferation and oncogenesis. Half of ATLL cases retain the ability to express HTLV-1 Tax, which is a target of HTLV-1-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL). An increase in HTLV-1-specific CTL responses is observed in some asymptomatic HTLV-1 carriers. Although HTLV-1-specific CTL are also present in the peripheral blood of ATLL patients, they do not expand sufficiently. We investigated the clinicopathological features and analyzed the staining of Tax-specific CTL and FoxP3. Tax-specific CTL correlated inversely with FoxP3, an increase in the ratio of CD163+ tumor-associated macrophages was associated with worse clinical prognosis, and ATLL cell lines proliferated significantly following direct co-culture with M2 macrophages. Several clinical variants of ATLL have been identified: acute, lymphomatous, chronic, and smoldering. Oligo-array comparative genomic hybridization revealed that genomic loss of 9p21.3 was a significant characteristic of acute-type, but not of chronic-type ATLL. Furthermore, we found that genomic alteration of CD58, which is implicated in immune escape, is more frequently observed in acute than in chronic ATLL. Interestingly, the chronic cases with cell cycle deregulation and disruption of immunosurveillance mechanism were associated with faster progression to acute ATLL. Immune evasion, microenvironment, and genetic alteration are therefore important in the multi-step progression of ATLL lymphomagenesis.

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