Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is generally considered a nonsecretory B cell immunoproliferative disorder. Conventional electrophoretic and immunoelectrophoretic methods have revealed serum monoclonal proteins in less than 10% of these patients. However, there is increasing experimental evidence from in vitro studies demonstrating that CLL cells may secrete immunoglobulins, particularly free light chains. We examined the serum and urine of 36 consecutive CLL patients for monoclonal proteins using sensitive immunochemical methods (high resolution agarose gel electrophoresis combined with immunofixation). The results obtained were correlated with the Rai stage, quantitative immunoglobulin levels, and lymphocyte membrane immunoglobulin phenotype of the leukemic cells. Twenty-three monoclonal proteins were identified in the serum or urine of 22 patients, an incidence of 61%. Six patients had serum monoclonal proteins, seven had only urinary monoclonal proteins, and nine had monoclonal proteins in serum and urine. In every instance the monoclonal protein was the same light chain type as expressed on the leukemic cells. Our findings suggest that the monoclonal proteins observed in the serum or urine of CLL patients are secretory products of the tumor cells and that their discovery is a function of the sensitivity of the method used for their detection.

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