The relationship between clinical and molecular characteristics of 45 treated individuals with histologically-documented human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-associated B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was examined to determine whether differences in molecular features of lymphoma were associated with differences in clinical outcome. Tissue specimens from these tumors were evaluated for evidence of Ig heavy-chain gene rearrangements using both Southern blot analysis and reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Lymphomas were also evaluated for the presence of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) DNA sequences and c-myc gene rearrangements. Twenty-five lymphomas were characterized as polyclonal and 20 as monoclonal. PCR amplification of expressed Ig variable (V)-region genes confirmed polyclonality in three extensively studied polyclonal lymphomas. The median CD4 count was significantly higher in the group with polyclonal disease (277/microL) than in the group with monoclonal disease (123/microL), P = .04. The complete response rate to therapy was significantly higher in patients with polyclonal disease (78%) and CD4 greater than 200/microL (81%) than in those with monoclonal disease (31%) and CD4 less than 200/microL (33%). CD4 count, clonality, and presence of EBV DNA sequences were the most important predictors of survival. Both Kaplan-Meier and Cox proportional hazards analyses showed a markedly prolonged survival in those patients with both CD4 > or = 200/microL and polyclonal disease. Histologically the polyclonal lymphomas were high grade in appearance and contained prominent macrophages. All seven surviving patients were in this group. Median survival for those individuals whose tumors contained EBV sequences was only 3.2 months (range, 0.4 to 19.5), whereas those with EBV-tumors survived for a median of 9.0 months (range, 0.7 to 65.2), P = .0007. These data indicate that molecular features of HIV-associated lymphomas may be important predictors of clinical outcome. These characteristics define a distinct subset of patients with polyclonal EBV-tumors and CD4 counts greater than 200/microL that appear to have a less aggressive clinical course.

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