Objective: In patients with Sjögren's syndrome (SS), B lymphocytes have been found to infiltrate salivary glands, resulting in sialadenitis and keratoconjunctivitis. The disease is frequently associated with benign and neoplastic lymphoproliferation. The present study was undertaken to investigate whether clonal B cell expansion takes place in lymphocytic infiltrations of salivary glands under (auto- [?]) antigen stimulation, by analyzing in more detail the variable part (V(H)-D-J(H)) of the immunoglobulin heavy chain genes expressed in these B cells.
Methods: Biopsies of the labial salivary glands and lymph nodes were performed on 2 female patients with SS. The Ig gene rearrangements in these tissues were amplified by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction using specific primers.
Results: A total of 94 V(H)-D-J(H) transcripts were cloned and sequenced. Our data suggest a polyclonal origin of the B cell infiltrates. In 92 of the transcripts, V(H) genes were modified by somatic mutation. Further analysis showed counterselection for replacement mutations within the framework regions, suggesting that those B cells were stimulated and selected for functional expression of a surface Ig. In labial salivary glands from both patients, clonally related B cells became evident. Members of 1 particular clone were found in both the lip and lymph node material.
Conclusion: These data provide evidence, on the nucleotide sequence level, that an antigen-triggered clonal B cell expansion takes place in the salivary glands of patients with SS who do not have histologic evidence of developing lymphoma. It may be speculated that those B cell clones expand during disease progression, resulting in lymphomagenesis.