Background and Objectives

Splenic and nodal marginal zone B cell lymphoma (SMZL and NMZL) have been recently identified as distinct clinicopathological entities in the WHO classification. These lymphomas entities may have a common origin in the marginal B-cell compartment of the lymphoid organs. However the precise cell of origin of marginal zone B cells, its status in the B cell differentiation pathway and the mechanisms involved in lymphomagenesis remain unclear. The most widely held view is that marginal zone B cells are mostly memory B cells. But the origin of these cells, especially the transit through germinal center pathway, remains contradictory. Somatically mutated variable-region of immunoglobulin genes and bcl-6 gene represent at this time faithful markers for exposure to the germinal center. In addition, aberrant somatic hypermutations have been suggested to contribute to the development of B-cell lymphomas, occurring in the 5′ sequence of several proto-oncogenes. Interestingly those mutation do not occur in normal germinal center B cells.

Design and Methods: IgVH, BCL-6, PIM1, Rho/TTF and PAX 5 genes, highly mutated in DLBCL and other indolent lymphoma such as B-CLL, were analysed for the presence of somatic mutations from 50 marginal zone lymphoma tissue and blood samples (21 NMZL and 29 SMZL including 10 cases with numerous villous lymphoma cells in peripheral blood). According to the morphological and immunophenotypical analysis, the fraction of malignant cells in the specimen was 70% or more in all cases. Mutational analysis was restricted to the regions previously shown to contain more than 95% of mutations in DLBCL. PCR products were directly sequenced on both sides and perfomed in duplicate in two independent reactions.

Results: Out of 18 NMZL cases analysed for IgVH mutational status (3 cases not analysed for IgVH) 15 cases were mutated and 21 out of 28 in SMZL cases. Mutation of BCL-6 was detected in only 1 NMZL patients (1/21) and 1 SMZL patients (1/29). For RhoH/TTF, PIM1, PAX5 the mutation average was also low with only 1 case mutated per group and per gene, with a different case mutated in each for each gene.

Conclusion In summary, we demonstrate the low frequency of aberrant somatic mutations in SMZL and NMZL, suggesting that this process is probably not a major contributor to lymphomageneis. However the frequent absence of mutation in BCL6 suggest a particular differentiation pathway, as suggested before in normal marginal zone B cells, possibly without transit through the germinal center. Interestingly the relatively high frequency of VH mutated cases compared with the frequent absence of mutation of BCL6, considered as a specific germinal center tag, could suggest somatic hypermutation outside the germinal center. In addition the absence of hypermutation could be linked with the absence of recurrent translocation in SMZL and NMZL, the translocation process haveing been associated with somatic hypermutation dysfunction.

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