Introduction: Burkitt Lymphoma (BL) is an aggressive B-cell lymphoma with a translocation involving MYC and immunoglobulin(Ig) loci. It is most common in children, but also affects adults, and occurs in sporadic, endemic and HIV-associated forms. The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-associated endemic subtype is the most common pediatric cancer in equatorial Africa, but also occurs in other parts of the world, for example in the rain forest of Brazil. Intensive chemotherapy is effective, but the associated toxicity requires supportive care that is not readily available in resource-poor regions. Previously published molecular characterization of small numbers of tumors indicated that the mutation profiles of endemic and sporadic cases are similar, but not identical. One goal of the BLGSP is to conduct comprehensive molecular characterization of BL by sequencing DNA and RNA from a large BL cohort - including endemic, sporadic, pediatric and adult cases - in order to define the genetic and phenotypic features that drive these cancers. These data will be analyzed with an intent toward developing new therapeutic strategies that can be deployed worldwide.

Methods: The goal is to collect 160 BL cases, of which 50% will be endemic, 38% sporadic (pediatric and adult) and 12% from HIV+ patients. For the discovery phase, each tumor requires case-matching normal DNA as well as treatment, outcome and other clinical information. The optimal source of tumor DNA and RNA is from frozen tissue with at least 50% tumor nuclei, but FFPE immobilization is also accepted. Accrual locations include Africa, Brazil, Europe and the US. The BLGSP has developed extensive standard operating procedures for tissue collection, pathology review and tissue processing to reduce the variation associated with these parameters in the interpretation of the results (see https://ocg.cancer.gov/programs/cgci/projects/burkitt-lymphoma). The project also established procedures that allow sharing of all clinical and sample information through the National Cancer Institute Genomic Data Commons (https://gdc.cancer.gov). Molecular characterization includes whole genome sequencing of tumor and normal DNA (80X and 40X coverage, respectively), RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) and micro-RNA sequencing. These data will enable the BLGSP to identify chromosomal rearrangements, chromosomal copy number alternations, somatic mutations (single nucleotide, insertions, deletions), viral insertions, expression signatures, viral expressions and miRNA regulation of transcripts.

Results: To date we have accrued 80 cases of BL of which 75% passed diagnostic pathology review. There was an additional 25% attrition at the tissue processing stage, either due to low quality nucleic acids or low percent tumor nuclei. We have completed sequencing for 45 cases, all but one of which have a MYC translocation involving one of the 3 Ig loci; one case has a MYC rearrangement by FISH analysis that is being characterized further. We have identified recurrent mutations in ID3, DDX3X, ARID1A, FOXO1, TP53, SMARCA4 and other genes. Most mutations are supported by the RNA-seq data, which is also useful in defining the pattern of EBV genome transcription. Preliminary unsupervised hierarchical clustering and principal component analysis of gene expression data defined sample clusters that do not correspond to mutation status or EBV infection, warranting further investigation. Some genes accumulated somatic mutations in a BL subtype-specific fashion.

Discussion: BLGSP is an ongoing international collaborative project that will provide a comprehensive molecular portrait of BL subtypes when completed, with the potential to suggest new molecular targets for therapy that can eventually lead to effective treatments that are less toxic than the current regimens.


Casper:Janssen: Consultancy, Research Funding; Roche: Consultancy, Other: Travel, Accommodation, Expenses; TempTime: Consultancy, Other: Travel, Accommodation, Expenses; Up to Date: Patents & Royalties; GSK: Other: Travel, Accommodation, Expenses. Abramson:Kite Pharma: Consultancy; Abbvie: Consultancy; Seattle Genetics: Consultancy; Gilead: Consultancy. Noy:Pharmacyclics, LLC, an AbbVie Company: Other: travel, accommodations, expenses, Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.