Molecular genetic analysis of three AIDS-associated neoplasms of uncertain lineage demonstrates their B-cell derivation and the possible pathogenetic role of the Epstein-Barr virus

DM Knowles, G Inghirami, A Ubriaco and R Dalla-Favera


Each of three individuals with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) developed a pleomorphic malignant neoplasm in which a precise histopathologic diagnosis could not be rendered. In each case, the tumor cells expressed leukocyte common antigen and a variable constellation of antigens associated with B- and T-cell activation (HLA- DR, T9, T10, BL2, BL3, Ki-24, BLAST-2). They lacked all B cell, T cell, myeloid, and monocyte lineage-restricted antigens, resulting in their classification as hematopoietic neoplasms of uncertain lineage. However, antigen receptor gene rearrangement analysis demonstrated that each of these three neoplasms exhibited clonal immunoglobulin heavy chain and kappa light chain gene rearrangements and lacked T-cell receptor beta chain gene rearrangements and therefore were B cell- derived non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (NHL) representative of an equivalent, relatively mature stage of B-cell differentiation. In contrast with most AIDS-associated NHLs, each of these three neoplasms lacked c-myc gene rearrangements and contained Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) proteins and/or sequences. These studies demonstrate that these three AIDS- associated neoplasms of uncertain lineage exhibit a strikingly similar constellation of distinctly uncommon morphologic, immunophenotypic, and molecular genetic characteristics that distinguishes them substantially from the vast majority of NHLs that have been reported to occur in association with AIDS. The consistent presence of EBV proteins and/or DNA sequences suggests that the Epstein-Barr virus played a pathogenetic role in the development of these three AIDS-associated neoplasms. Finally, these studies further illustrate the utility of antigen receptor gene rearrangement analysis in the diagnosis and classification of hematopoietic neoplasms of uncertain lineage.