Between 10% and 25% of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients have episodes of autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) during the course of their disease. The anti-erythrocyte autoantibodies in most cases are polyclonal and express a different heavy chain isotype than the malignant clone, indicating that they are secreted by normal autoreactive B lymphocytes. To further investigate the pathogenesis of the AIHA in CLL, we analyzed the lg heavy (H) chain variable region genes expressed by leukemic cells from CLL patients with and without AIHA. Two VH genes were preferentially expressed by the leukemic cells in the CLL cases with AIHA and were present in 9 of the 12 investigated cases. The 51p1/DP-10 gene was expressed in 5 of these cases and was absent in the control group of 12 consecutive CLL cases without AIHA, whereas the DP-50 gene was present in 4 CLL-AIHA cases and only once in the control CLL group. A strikingly similar H-chain CDR3 region that contained a single reading frame of the DXP4 DH gene segment, and N- encoded proline at the DH/JH boundary, and a tyrosine-rich region encoded by the JH6 gene segment was observed in four CLL-AIHA cases. The preferential expression of two VH gene segments and a particular CDR3 region by the leukemic cells of patients with AIHA suggests that the antibodies produced by the CLL cells are directly involved in the pathogenesis of the hemolytic anemia.

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