Plasma cell tumors display a wide spectrum of clinical progression, ranging from aggressive multiple myeloma to a benign form known as monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), which requires no treatment. Because both diseases involve mature Ig- secreting plasma cells, the reason for this variation in malignant behavior is unclear. However, assessment of malignant potential is desirable for choice of treatment protocols. Ig variable (VH) gene sequences analysis has previously shown the tumor cell of multiple myeloma to be postfollicular, with mutated homogeneous clonal sequences indicating no continuing exposure to the somatic hypermutation mechanism, and this was confirmed in 7 of 7 patients. Comparison of the VH gene sequences in the monoclonal cells in MGUS yielded a different result, with 3 of 7 patients demonstrating mutated heterogeneous sequences consistent with the tumor cells remaining under the influence of the mutator. In 1 of 3 of these patients, an IgM-positive precursor cell was identified that expressed heterogeneous VH sequences similar to those of the isotype-switched plasma cell. These results indicate that the clonal cells in MGUS differ from those in myeloma and suggest that the difference may reflect malignant potential.

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