Biology and management of primary effusion lymphoma

Kazuyuki Shimada, Fumihiko Hayakawa and Hitoshi Kiyoi


Primary effusion lymphoma (PEL) is a rare B-cell malignancy that most often occurs in immunocompromised patients, such as HIV-infected individuals and patients receiving organ transplantation. The main characteristic of PEL is neoplastic effusions in body cavities without detectable tumor masses. The onset of the disease is associated with latent infection of human herpes virus 8/Kaposi sarcoma–associated herpes virus, and the normal counterpart of tumor cells is B cells with plasmablastic differentiation. A condition of immunodeficiency and a usual absence of CD20 expression lead to the expectation of the lack of efficacy of anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody; clinical outcomes of the disease remain extremely poor, with an overall survival at 1 year of ∼30%. Although recent progress in antiretroviral therapy has improved outcomes of HIV-infected patients, its benefit is still limited in patients with PEL. Furthermore, the usual high expression of programmed death ligand 1 in tumor cells, one of the most important immune-checkpoint molecules, results in the immune escape of tumor cells from the host immune defense, which could be the underlying mechanism of poor treatment efficacy. Molecular-targeted therapies for the activating pathways in PEL, including NF-κB, JAK/STAT, and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/AKT, have emerged to treat this intractable disease. A combination of immunological recovery from immune deficiency, overcoming the immune escape, and the development of more effective drugs will be vital for improving the outcomes of PEL patients in the future.

  • Submitted March 9, 2018.
  • Accepted August 24, 2018.
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