Background: Results of conventional cytogenetic studies on specimens processed without B-cell mitogens are usually normal in B-CLL: this observation is often attributed to lack of mitotic B-CLL cells. Using metaphase FISH with D13S319, we now have evidence that these apparently normal mitotic B-CLL cells often exhibit submicroscopic interstitial deletions in 13q14. This observation indicates B-CLL cells do divide in unstimulated cultures, but the abnormal metaphases are not detected because the abnormalities are submicroscopic and represent a low percentage of proliferating cells.

Methods: We studied 12 patients with B-CLL who had normal metaphases by conventional cytogenetics, but abnormal interphase nuclei by FISH with D13S319. This cohort consisted of 7 females and 5 males who ranged in age from 50 to 87 years. Clinical information was available for 11 patients: Rai stages were 0, I, II, III, or IV for 6, 1, 1, 2, and 1 patients, respectively; 8 patients received treatment and 3 have died. Conventional cytogenetic studies and metaphase FISH were done on bone marrow specimens that were processed by standard 24 and 48-hour unstimulated cultures with Chang Medium BMC. Interphase FISH studies were done on blood or bone marrow (collected within 3 days of specimens for conventional cytogenetic studies) using probes to detect anomalies of chromosomes 6, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 17. For each patient, metaphase FISH was done with commercial probes from Vysis Inc., Downers Grove, IL for D13S319/13q34 using leftover fixed cells from conventional cytogenetics studies.

Results: Metaphase FISH results were normal for 3 bone marrow specimens: the remaining 9 specimens had 1.9 to 13.8% metaphases with interstitial deletions of 13q14. One patient had a cytogenetically visible chromosome 13 deletion in 2.2% of metaphases. In the remaining 8 specimens, the size of the abnormal 13 was similar to the normal 13 homolog and other acrocentric chromosomes. By comparison, interphase FISH revealed 13 to 93% nuclei with 13q-x1 or 13q-x2. Seven patients had additonal anomalies in their interphase nuclei; 3 had 11q-, 2 had 17p-, 1 had +12 and 1 had +IGH.

Conclusions: This investigation indicates that metaphase FISH detects submicroscopic deletions in chromosome 13 as well as infrequent mitotic B-CLL cells in patients who have normal conventional cytogenetic results. Therefore, metaphase FISH is a novel and useful technique to detect abnormal mitotic cells in B-CLL in cultures without special B-cell mitogens. The prognostic significance of abnormal metaphase FISH results is still under investigation. We speculate that this method will allow for identification of more aggressive proliferating disease even in so-called “favorable” prognostic groups based on interphase FISH results.

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