Monocytoid B-cell lymphoma (MBCL) is a newly recognized B-cell neoplasm of uncertain histogenesis. The cytologic features of the neoplastic monocytoid B lymphocytes are virtually identical to those of hairy cell leukemia (HCL). As with HCL, progression of MBCL to a higher histologic grade is very unusual. However, whereas circulating leukemic cells are a characteristic feature of HCL, peripheral blood involvement has not been reported in MBCL. We recently studied a patient with MBCL of the spleen and axillary lymph nodes who developed peripheral blood involvement by MBCL cells. Unlike the cells of HCL, the circulating MBCL cells exhibited strong acid phosphatase activity that was tartrate sensitive. The leukemic cells had the antigenic phenotype IgM lambda, CD20+, CD11c+, CD5-, CD25(TAC)-, and PCA-1-. Immunogenetic studies of both lymph node and peripheral blood cells revealed identical immunoglobulin heavy-chain gene rearrangements. When compared with a series of HCL, the immunophenotype was similar except for the absence of PCA-1 and TAC. Progression of the MBCL to a large cell lymphoma, also expressing IgM lambda, was documented in an abdominal lymph node of this patient. Therefore, although rare, peripheral blood involvement by lymphoma cells may occur during the course of MBCL and should be distinguished from HCL with cytochemical and immunophenotypic studies. In addition, comparison of the clinical, pathologic, and immunologic features of MBCL with those of other low-grade B-cell neoplasms suggests that a close lineage relationship exists between MBCL and HCL.

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