We analyzed the correlation between well-established biological parameters of prognostic relevance in B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia [CLL] (i.e, mutational status of the immunoglobulin heavy chain variable region [IgVH], ZAP-70− and CD38− expression) and serum levels of BAFF (B-cell activating factor of the TNF family) by evaluating the impact of these variables on the time to first treatment [TFT] in a series of 125 previously untreated Binet stage A B-cell CLL patients. By using a commercial ELISA (R & D Systems, USA) we found that higher levels of BAFF characterized more frequently females (P=0.01), patients with Rai stage 0 (P=0.03), mutated IgVH disease (P=0.008) and low ZAP-70 expression (P=0.04). In contrast, age (P=0.35), peripheral blood lymphocytosis (PBL)(P=0.09), hemoglobin (Hb) level (P=0.64), platelet (PLT) count (P=0.12), serum β2-m (P=0.49), LDH (P=0.85) and percentage of CD38-positive B-CLL cells (P=0.63) did not reflect circulating levels of BAFF. We used an optimal cut-point search to determine how to best split soluble BAFF data. Maximally selected log-rank statistics plots identified a BAFF serum concentration of 311 ng/mL as the best cut-off (P<0.0001). Accordingly, patients who had BAFF levels higher than 311 ng/mL experienced a longer TFT (median 108 months) in comparison to patients whose BAFF levels were lower than 311 ng/mL (median 30 months; P<0.0001). Along with serum concentration of BAFF, the univariate Cox proportional hazard model identified Rai substage I–II (P=0.003), lower PLT count (P=0.04), higher PBL count (P=0.01), increased LDH (P=0.01), ZAP-70 expression > 20% (P=0.02) and absence of mutation of IgVH (P<0.0001) as predictor of shorter TFT. In multivariate analysis only soluble BAFF (Hazard ratio [HR], 6.13; CI 95%, 2.31–16.25) and mutational status of IgVH, (HR= 2.99; CI 95% 1.33–6.76, P=0.008) maintained their discriminating power. The effects of BAFF on TFT were masked by mutational status of IgVH in patients with unmutated IgVH. However, serum levels of BAFF and mutational status of IgVH had a joint effect on TFT in patients with mutated IgVH which translates into a segregation of patients with mutated IgVH in two groups with different TFT according to BAFF levels (HR= 8.9; P<0.0001). Our results indicate that in early B-cell CLL biological profile including among other parameters soluble BAFF may provide a useful insight into the complex interrelationship of prognostic variables. Furthermore, BAFF along with mutational status of IgVH can be adequately used to predict clinical behaviour of patients with low biological risk.

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