The nature of Hodgkin and Reed-Sternberg (HRS) cells remains in question. Immunophenotypic studies favor a relation to the lymphoid lineage with the existence of B- and T-cell types. However, studies on the detection of antigen (Ag) receptor gene rearrangements provided inconsistent results. They concur in that rearranged Ig and T-cell receptor (TCR) genes are not demonstrable in most Hodgkin's disease (HD) cases. To clarify whether this is because of the insensitivity of the method of detection or a real absence of clonal Ig heavy chain (IgH) rearrangements, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method with high sensitivity was applied, allowing the detection of less than 50 cells with clonally rearranged IgH genes in a mixture of 100,000 germline or individually rearranged cells. In 67 cases of HD, most of those (67%) with B-Ag+ HRS cells express clonal VDJ rearrangements of the IgH gene. No cases with T-cell Ag+ HRS cells harbored detectable clonal VDJ rearrangements. Of 10 sequenced rearranged IgH genes, the VH segment of six contained considerable somatic mutations. These results suggest that the demonstrated VDJ rearrangements stem from the HRS cells themselves and that the HRS cells of cases with rearranged IgH genes are B-cell related and correspond in their differentiation stage either to naive pregerminal center B cells or (more commonly) to germinal center/postgerminal center-derived memory B cells.

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