CD44 exists in a variety of alternatively spliced isoforms that include variable numbers of additional exons from the membrane proximal domain (exons 6–14). Lymphocytes express high levels of a “hematopoietic” isoform (CD44H) with no additional variable exons. CD44H binds lymphocytes to postcapillary venules and promotes lymphocyte extravasation into nodal areas. Epithelial carcinomas also express CD44 variants, including exon 10-containing isoforms associated with metastasis in a rat model. An exon 10-containing CD44 isoform is also transiently expressed by normal activated lymphocytes, suggesting that the protein may function in the trafficking of both normal lymphocytes and metastatic tumors. To identify the specific CD44 transcripts in tumors from patients with primary nodal, extranodal, and disseminated large-cell lymphomas (LCLs) and compare them with CD44 mRNAs in normal Ig-activated splenic B cells and epithelial cells, we used a semiquantitative RNA-based polymerase chain reaction. Specific CD44 variants were identified by size, hybridization with exon-specific probes, and sequence analysis. In comparison to primary nodal LCLs, extranodal and disseminated LCLs had increased levels of CD44H and additional isoforms, including a directly spliced (exon 5-->exon 10-- >exon 15) exon 10-containing CD44 variant. The CD44 transcripts in extranodal and advanced-stage LCLs were similar to those in normal Ig- activated splenic B cells, whereas epithelial malignancies contained decreased CD44H and increased amounts of larger CD44 variants with additional exons from the membrane proximal domain. The regulated expression of specific CD44 variants is likely to influence the trafficking of lymphoid and epithelial malignancies.

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