Follicular lymphoma is a heterogeneous disease in terms of disease course and prognosis. Clinical risk factors, including age, presence of B symptoms and bulky disease have been shown to have prognostic value. More recently, elements of the tumor microenvironment, including CD68 positive macrophages as well as programmed death-1 (PD-1) expressing lymphocytes, have been shown to be associated with a worse prognosis. However, there is a paucity of data in terms of microenvironment changes that take place in the setting of transformation into diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL). CD14 is a monocytic marker, and increased numbers of CD14+ cells in the peripheral blood have been associated with a poor prognosis in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and CLL. It has also been shown that CD14+ cells are present in biopsy specimens in DLBCL and that these cells may support malignant cell growth. This study was designed to examine the presence of CD14+ cells in follicular lymphoma that transformed to DLBCL and to determine the prognostic value of CD14 expression in terms of time to transformation.
Patients with follicular lymphoma who underwent transformation into DLBCL were identified from the Mayo Clinic Lymphoma Database. Controls were follicular lymphoma patients who did not undergo transformation, and were matched 2:1 (control:transformed) on age at diagnosis, year of diagnosis, sex, stage, and length of follow-up time. Tissue specimens at the time of diagnosis were stained for CD14 and CD68, and characterized semiquantitatively based on the presence and distribution of positive cells. Time to transformation (TTT) was assessed using the Kaplan-Meier method.
159 patients were included in the study: 58 patients transformed and 101 did not transform into DLBCL. Median age at diagnosis was 64 years. 150 specimens were sufficient for immunohistochemical analysis. When patients with transformed disease were compared to those who did not transform, those who transformed had greater numbers of CD14+ cells present in their initial diagnostic biopsy (p=0.0415). When only patients who transformed were considered, CD14+ cells in a follicular pattern was associated with a median time to transformation of 3.9 years, CD14+ cells in an interfollicular pattern had a median TTT of 4.9 years and CD14- specimens were associated with a median TTT of 6.2 years (p = 0.0322). The staining pattern for CD68 differed from that of CD14 and was not significantly associated with time to transformation.
The presence of intratumoral CD14+ cells at diagnosis in follicular lymphoma is associated with subsequent disease transformation. Our results suggest that when CD14+ cells organize in the follicle, follicular lymphoma patients are likely to transform into DLBCL sooner. Further studies are therefore warranted to define the role of these cells in the tumor microenvironment during transformation to DLBCL.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.