BACKGROUND: Karyotype analysis of metaphase cells for discovering genome-wide cytogenetic abnormalities has played an important role in prognosis and counseling of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Due to the low proliferative rate of CLL B cells, karyotype analysis has been of limited clinical utility in this disease. Thus, fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) on interphase cells has replaced karyotype analysis for the assessment of recurrent genetic changes in CLL. Recently, immunostimulatory CpG-oligodeoxynucleotides (CpG) have been shown to induce primary CLL B cell proliferation via engagement of toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9), thereby rendering karyotype analysis feasible and providing for a useful and reliable method to discover new cytogenetic abnormalities in CLL B cells. However, we and others have shown that CpG stimulation of CLL and normal B cells also induces robust expression of activation induced cytidine deaminase (AID), a mutagenic enzyme that is linked to the development of cytogenetic abnormalities. It is therefore plausible that cytogenetic abnormalities observed following CpG stimulation of CLL B cells may not reflect de novo abnormalities but rather reflect CpG induced-AID mediated cytogenetic alterations. We began to address this possibility by assessing the effects of CpG stimulation on the karyotypes of normal blood B cells.

HYPOTHESIS: Since CpG stimulation induces AID expression in CLL and normal B cells, we hypothesize that:

  1. robust B cell activation by CpG could result in cytogenetic abnormalities thereby contributing to lymphomagenesis; and

  2. if CpG induces cytogenetic abnormalities that are linked to disease initiation and/or progression, such information would be of great value in the interpretation of cytogenetic data obtained from CpG-stimulated CLL B cells.

METHODS: We performed interphase FISH analysis on freshly isolated blood B cells, and metaphase karyotype analysis on CpG stimulated B cells from 17 healthy blood donors. Pure (>98%) B cells obtained by negative selection, were hybridized at isolation with a probe set to identify deletion 6q, 11q, 13q, and 17p, trisomy 12, and IGH gene rearrangements, and cells were also stimulated for 5 days with 10 μg/ml CpG (CpG 2006, synthesized in-house) plus IL-2 and IL-15 for metaphase analysis. At least 20 post-CpG metaphase spreads were analyzed for each sample and abnormalities were considered clonal using the accepted convention (gains or translocations are present in two or more cells and loss present in at least 3 cells). The expression of AID in the B cells pre- and post-CpG stimulation was assessed by RT-PCR.

RESULTS: FISH analysis of freshly isolated B cells showed that all 17 subjects were normal. After CpG stimulation, all samples examined exhibited strong AID expression as revealed by RT-PCR. By karyotype analysis, none of the 17 CpG stimulated samples showed evidence of clonal abnormalities. However, one or more nonclonal chromosomal abnormalities were observed in 7 out of 17 (41.2%) samples. Among those 7 samples, 4 samples had 1 abnormal metaphase out of a minimum of 20 examined while the other 3 samples exhibited two or more cells, each with distinct abnormalities. Some of those nonclonal abnormalities have also been observed in CLL (i.e., trisomy 3, trisomy 12 and 14q32 rearrangements). This is a much higher incidence of nonclonal abnormalities than has been seen with peripheral blood cells cultured by other methods.

CONCLUSION: Our data have significance for the biology of CLL and for clinical practice. First, our data suggest that signaling through TLR9, and perhaps other receptors that likewise induce robust B cell AID expression, may represent a natural mechanism by which B lineage cells acquire chromosomal abnormalities during normal immune responses that may predispose toward neoplastic transformation. Second, given that none of the CpG-induced metaphases in normal B cells resulted in clonal abnormalities in the 5 day timeframe, our data also validate the clinical utility of CpG as a valuable tool for the cytogenetic analysis of CLL B cells since only clonal abnormalities are currently scored. However, it remains possible that non-clonal abnormalities seen in CpG-stimulated CLL B cells may be relevant to the disease process if future work shows that CpG stimulation uncovers recurring non-clonal defects of chromosomes/genes associated with tumorigenic events.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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