Non-Hodgkin's lymphomas are divided into B- and T-cell neoplasms. The existence and the clinical relevance of lymphomas derived from the third lymphocyte lineage, ie, natural killer (NK) cells are still controversial. NK cells are lymphocytes that mediate cytotoxicity without prior sensitization. NK cells also have phenotypic and genotypic characteristics: they express the NK-related antigen CD56, T- cell markers such as CD2 and CD7, but do not express CD5 and T-cell receptor (TCR) proteins, and their TCR locus is not rearranged. Therefore, if NK cell lymphomas exist, they should express some T-cell markers, but not alpha beta or gamma delta TCR proteins. Such lymphomas are actually called TCR silent peripheral T cell lymphomas (PTCL). To detect and characterize NK cell lymphomas, we investigated the immunophenotype and immunogenotype of 35 patients with TCR silent PTCL. The first group included 16 patients with a lymphoma of CD5-CD56+ phenotype, which is identical to normal NK cells. These patients had either a nasal/nasopharyngeal lymphoma (11 cases) or a lymphoma with predominant non-nasal/non-nodal initial involvement (five cases). Eight of the nine cases for which immunogenotypic data were available lacked clonal rearrangement of the TCR gamma genes. Thus, these tumors are likely to be NK cell lymphomas. The second group of 15 cases had a CD5+ phenotype (14 were CD56-, and 1 was CD56+) and clonal rearrangement of TCR gamma genes, indicating that they were true PTCL with unproductive TCR rearrangement. The four remaining cases were CD5- CD56- lymphomas and disclosed either a clonal (two cases) or no clonal (two cases) rearrangements of the TCR gamma genes. Altogether these findings show that CD5-CD56+ so-called “TCR silent PTCL” bear the immunophenotype and immunogenotype of normal NK cells and display peculiar clinical features distinct from true PTCL.

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