Key Points

  • Richter's syndrome (RS) is a rare complication of CLL with dismal prognosis, as well as an area where effective therapies are sorely needed.

  • WGS and RNA expression profiling of paired CLL and RS samples reveal clinically targetable genes and pathways involved in RS transformation.

The transformation of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) to high-grade B-cell lymphoma is known as Richter's Syndrome (RS) and it is a rare event with dismal prognosis. In this study, we conducted whole genome sequencing (WGS) of paired circulating CLL (PB-CLL) and RS biopsies (tissue-RS) from 17 clinical trial (CHOP-O) patients. We found that tissue-RS was enriched for mutations in poor-risk CLL drivers and genes in the DNA damage response (DDR) pathway. In addition, we identified genomic aberrations not previously implicated in RS, including the protein tyrosine phosphatase receptor (PTPRD) and tumour necrosis factor receptor associated factor three (TRAF3). In the non-coding genome, we discovered AID-related and unrelated kataegis in tissue-RS affecting regulatory regions of key immune regulatory genes. These include BTG2, CXCR4, NFATC1, PAX5, NOTCH-1, SLC44A5, FCRL3, SELL, TNIP2 andTRIM13. Furthermore, differences between the global mutation signatures of pairs of PB-CLL and tissue-RS samples implicate DDR as the dominant mechanism driving transformation. Pathway-based clonal de-convolution analysis showed that genes in the MAPK and DDR pathways demonstrate high clonal expansion probability. Direct comparison of nodal-CLL and tissue-RS pairs from an independent cohort confirmed differential expression of the same pathways by RNA expression profiling. Our integrated analysis of WGS and RNA expression data significantly extends previous targeted approaches, which were limited by the lack of germline samples, and it facilitates the identification of novel genomic correlates implicated in RS transformation, which could be targeted therapeutically. Our results inform the future selection of investigative agents for a UK clinical platform study (NCT03899337).

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