There is a considerable lack of understanding about the common molecular defects that form the basis for the occurrence of Hodgkin's lymphoma. Despite a number of molecular tools used thus far in immunophenotypic and karyotypic studies, it has not been possible to establish a single common trait among various Hodgkin (H)-cell lines or primary tumor cells that would allow classification into a particular hematopoietic lineage. With this study, we demonstrate that a characteristic expression pattern of transcription factors provides a unifying principle. Seven different cell lines derived from patients with Hodgkin's disease (HD), as well as primary H/Reed-Sternberg (RS) cells isolated from the pericardial fluid of a patient with HD, were compared with a number of hematopoietic and nonhematopoietic cell lines for the expression of Oct-2, a tissue-specific transcription factor normally restricted to B cells, and nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kappa B), an inducible transcription factor. Regardless of the heterogeneous phenotypes and genotypes of the H cell lines, which varied inconsistently between B-cell-, T-cell-, or monocyte-like properties, all H cells tested displayed expression of Oct-2 protein at levels comparable to those seen in B cells. Furthermore, all cell lines showed an abundant constitutive nuclear NF-kappa B activity. Interestingly, anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (ALCL) cell lines, which have many features in common with H/RS cells, were devoid constitutive nuclear NF- kappa B activity. Unlike the constitutive NF-kappa B activity known for B cells, which mainly consists of the p50 and c-Rel or RelB subunits, we demonstrate by antibody supershifting experiments that H cells contain constitutive nuclear p50 and p65, the dimeric NF-kappa B normally observed only for limited time intervals after stimulation with diverse inducers. Additionally, some H-cell lines also displayed nuclear c-Rel activity, whereas RelB or p52 were not detected as part of the constitutive activity. The expression pattern of Oct-2 and NF- kappa B appears to be a unifying and characteristic property of H cells and might explain the deregulated expression of various cytokines leading to the clinical and pathologic manifestations of HD.

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