Key Points

  • There is striking sub-clonal molecular heterogeneity within clonal malignant T cell populations in the skin and blood of leukemic CTCL.

  • Tissue microenvironment influences the transcriptional state of malignant T cells, likely contributing to evolution of malignant clones.

Cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL) is a heterogeneous group of mature T cell neoplasms characterized by the accumulation of clonal malignant CD4+ T cells in the skin. The most common variant of CTCL, Mycosis Fungoides, is confined to the skin in early stages but can be accompanied by extracutaneous dissemination of malignant T cells to the blood and lymph nodes in advanced stages of disease. Sézary Syndrome, a leukemic form of disease is characterized by significant blood involvement. Little is known about the transcriptional and genomic relationship between skin and blood residing malignant T cells in CTCL. To identify and interrogate malignant clones in matched skin and blood from leukemic MF and SS patients, we combine T cell receptor clonotyping, with quantification of gene expression and cell surface markers at the single cell level. Our data reveals clonal evolution at a transcriptional and genetic level within the malignant populations of individual patients. We highlight highly consistent transcriptional signatures delineating skin-derived and blood-derived malignant T cells. Analysis of these two populations suggests that environmental cues, along with genetic aberrations, contribute to transcriptional profiles of malignant T cells. Our findings indicate that the skin microenvironment in CTCL promotes a transcriptional response supporting rapid malignant expansion, as opposed to the quiescent state observed in the blood, potentially influencing efficacy of therapies. These results provide insight into tissue-specific characteristics of cancerous cells and underscore the need to address the patients' individual malignant profiles at the time of therapy to eliminate all sub-clones.

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