Extranodal marginal zone B-cell lymphoma of mucosa associated lymphoid tissue (MALT lymphoma) accounts for approximately 7% to 8% of all non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHLs) being the third most frequent histological subtype. The gastrointestinal tract - particularly the stomach - is the most common site of MALT lymphoma comprising 50% of all cases, but virtually every organ may be affected by this type of lymphoma. Transformation (or de novo emergence at extranodal sites) in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) occurs but - according to the WHO criteria - is considered as separate entity. The understanding of the molecular biology of MALT lymphoma has significantly improved following the recent cloning of recurrent balanced translocations such as t(11;18) or t(14;18), but a mechanism for genome-wide instability during MALT lymphomagenesis has not been described. We have reported that the somatic hypermutation process (SHM) physiologically aimed at mutating the immunoglobulin variable gene (IgV) aberrantly targets multiple proto-oncogenes in >50% of DLCBL (

Pasqualucci et al.,
). Consequently, multiple mutations are introduced in the 5′ region of genes including known proto-oncogenes such as PIM-1, PAX-5, Rho/TTF and c-MYC. To further investigate whether aberrant somatic hypermutation (ASHM) also occurs in MALT lymphoma, we studied the mutation profile of these genes in 17 MALT lymphomas (6 of gastric- and 11 of nongastric origin) and 18 extranodal DLBCL (10 gastric, 8 nongastric). Mutations in one or more genes were detected in 15 of 17 (88.2%) cases of MALT lymphoma and in all of 18 (100%) cases of extranodal DLBCL. 7 of 17 (41.2%) and 15 of 18 (83.3%) carried mutations in two or more genes in the MALT- and DLBC-lymphoma group, respectively. Overall, mutations in PIM-1 occurred in 5 of 17 (29.4%) cases with MALT lymphoma and in 10 of 18 (55.5%) in extranodal DLBCL cases. For PAX-5, the distribution of mutated cases between MALT- and DLBC-lymphoma was 6 of 17 (35.3%) and 10 of 18 (55.5%), for Rho/TTF 3 of 17 (17.6%) and 8 of 18 (44.4%) and for c-MYC 9 of 17 (52.9%) and 12 of 18 (66.6%), respectively. A total of 99 sequence variants were found in 35 cases, 29 in the MALT lymphomas and 70 in extranodal DLBCL. Although the mutations were almost exclusively single base pair substitutions (n=98 ), an insertion was also present (n=1). Mutations were of somatic origins, occur independent of chromosomal translocations to the Ig loci and share features of the IgV SHM process including bias for transition over transversion, preferential hotspot (RGYW/WRCY) targeting and restriction to the first 1–2Kb from the promoter. The mean mutation frequency in mutated MALT lymphomas was with 0.045 x10−2/bp 1.7 fold lower compared to 0.08 x10−2/bp in mutated extranodal DLBCL. Further in PIM-1, PAX-5 and c-MYC some of the mutations were found to affect coding exons, leading to amino acid exchanges, thus potentially altering gene function. These data indicate that aberrant SHM is associated with extranodal DLBCL and MALT lymphoma, likewise. By mutating regulatory and coding sequences of the targeted genes and by possibly favouring chromosomal translocations ASHM may represent a major contributor to their pathogenesis. ASHM may further support a model of MALT lymphomagenesis leading from an antigen driven lesion to transformed MALT lymphoma finally evolving to overt DLBCL.

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