Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is largely incurable neoplasm of the blood and has one of the highest familial risks of disease among cancers. Monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis (MBL) with a CLL immunophenotypic profile (i.e., CLL-like MBL) is a precursor state to CLL. In the general adult population, the prevalence rate of MBL is 5–9% and increases with age. This is in contrast to the 13–18% rate of MBL in first-degree relatives of CLL patients from high-risk families (defined here as families with at least two confirmed living cases of CLL). Few longitudinal studies of MBL incidence exists. One study evaluated MBL status over time in a cohort of individuals with MBL from a rural valley in Northern Italy. Our work herein will be the first to evaluate the status of MBL over time in relatives of CLL patients from high-risk families.
Using a cohort of 41 high-risk CLL families, we evaluated the MBL status and clonal blood B-cell counts in 94 relatives of CLL patients at two time points at least 1 year a part. High sensitivity, multi-color flow cytometry was performed on fresh or previously frozen blood samples in three laboratories: Duke University, the US Food and Drug Administration, and Mayo Clinic. The number of cell events collected for flow cytometry evaluation varied from 1 to 5 x105 cells. To assure concordance across flow cytometry laboratories, 15 samples were evaluated at multiple labs. The concordance of MBL calling was a 100%. We defined three monotypic B-cell subsets as CLL-like MBL (CD5+ CD20dim), atypical MBL (CD5+ CD20+), and non-CLL like MBL (CD5−CD20+).
Of the 94 relatives, the median age at consent was 57 years (range 42–93) and 39% were male. At the initial MBL screening, 70 (74%) relatives had normal immunophenotype (NIPT) and 24 (26%) had MBL (1 atypical MBL, 3 non-CLL like MBL, and 20 CLL-like MBL). Seven of the 24 individuals with MBL had monoclonal B-cell counts available at baseline screening; median = 147.4 cells/uL (range 22.7–1663). The 94 relatives underwent repeat evaluation with a median follow up time of 1.8 years (range 1–6). At the second evaluation, we found an increase in the prevalence of MBL, with 11 of the 70 (12%) initially NIPT relatives developing a new MBL clone (10 CLL-like, 1 non-CLL like). These 11 incident MBL cases were from 9 families with 2 families each having 2 relatives changing MBL status. The median number of monoclonal B-cells in these 11 incident MBL cases was 0.58 cells/uL (range 0.38–60.3). The 23 out of the 24 relatives with baseline MBL (20 CLL-like MBL and 3 non-CLL like MBL) had a persistent MBL clone. Only 6 of these 23 individuals had monoclonal B-cell counts available at both time points, and among these 6, the clonal B-cell counts decreased at follow-up screening; median difference −64.1 cells/uL (range −1204.3– 10.5). The second evaluation of the initial atypical MBL relative had too few clonal cells for flow assessment.
We found that our CLL-like MBL clones persisted over the period of observation in relatives from high-risk CLL families; this finding is similar to that previously reported using a population-based study conducted in Northern Italy. Notably, 12% of relatives from high-risk CLL families developed incident MBL during just 2 years of follow up. Although these MBL clones are all low count (< 1500 cells/uL), these data provide further evidence that MBL is a marker of inherited predisposition to CLL. It will be important to see how our rate of change of MBL status compares to that of the general population as we continue to follow our cohort of CLL families.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.