Rearrangements of the T-cell receptor (TCR) delta locus are observed in the majority of human B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemias (ALL) with a striking predominance of V delta 2(D)D delta 3 recombinations in common ALL (cALL) patients. Recently, we and others showed that almost 20% of cALL cases are characterized by further recombination of V delta 2(D)D delta 3 segments to J alpha elements, thereby deleting the TCR delta locus in analogy to the delta Rec/psi J alpha pathway in differentiating alpha/beta-positive T cells. We report here that two human cALL-derived cell lines, REH and Nalm-6, are competent to recombine the TCR delta/alpha locus under standard tissue culture conditions. Analysis of different REH subclones obtained by limiting dilution of the initial culture showed a biased recombination of V delta 2D delta 3 to distinct J alpha elements. During prolonged tissue culture, a subclone acquired growth advantage and displaced parental cells as well as other subclones. Frequently, the DJ junctions of REH subclones contained extended stretches of palindromic sequences derived from modified D delta 3 coding elements. The other cell line, Nalm-6, started the TCR delta/alpha recombination with an unusual signal joint of a cryptic recombinase signal sequence (RSS) upstream of D delta 3 to the 3′ RSS of D delta 3. The RSS dimer was subsequently rearranged in all investigated subclones to an identical J alpha element. Both cell lines might become valuable tools to unravel the complex regulation of TCR delta/alpha recombination pathways in malignant and normal lymphopoiesis.

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