Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) may be associated with other autoimmune diseases and the development of lymphoproliferative malignancies. In Sjogren's disease, Graves' disease, and essential mixed cryoglobulinemia, which are also associated with the development of B-cell neoplasia, clonal B-cell expansions have been detected. Eleven patients with ITP were investigated for the presence of a clonal excess (CE) using kappa-lambda flow cytometry and DNA analysis for rearrangement of immunoglobulin heavy and light chain genes in blood and/or spleen lymphocytes. In 10 of 11 patients, clonal B-cell populations were found by one or both tests. In three of these patients, oligoclonal B-cell populations were suggested by the combined findings. In all four patients with a small paraproteinemia, the isotype was confirmed by either flow cytometry or DNA rearrangement analysis. Our data suggest that the oligoclonal expansions are not restricted to CD5+ B cells, as in the majority of patients this subset was below the detection level of flow cytometry or DNA rearrangement analysis. None of the patients developed clinical manifestations of malignant lymphoma during a follow-up period of 10 to 44 months after sampling. We conclude that clonal excess populations of B cells are not a unique feature of malignant lymphoma, but may occur in autoimmune diseases, suggesting a benign (oligo)clonal B-cell proliferation.

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