Background: Although familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (FHL) has been considered a T-cell disorder, to the authors' knowledge there are no previous reports on the clonal basis of FHL. In the current study the authors analyzed the clonality of T-cells in two FHL patients at the time of disease onset and at disease progression.
Methods: Patient 1 had FHL and died of recurrent disease 4 months after bone marrow transplantation (BMT). His liver and spleen showed massive infiltrations of CD3+, CD4-, and CD8+ T-cells. The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) genome was detected by in situ hybridization. Patient 2 also had FHL and died of progressive disease 9 weeks after the onset of disease despite chemotherapy. A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis showed positive EBV genome in the peripheral blood, liver, and spleen of Patient 2. In the two patients, T-cell receptor-beta and alpha-chain variable region (TCR Vbeta and V alpha) repertoires in peripheral mononuclear cells were analyzed at the time of disease onset and at disease progression by the inverse PCR method. When a high usage (> 15%) of a specific Vbeta family member was observed, a clonal analysis was performed by PCR using beta-chain joining region (Jbeta) primers. The clonality of specific Vbeta-Jbeta fragments was confirmed by a single strand confirmation polymorphism (SSCP) analysis.
Results: Although there was no preferential usage of Vbeta in Patient 1, the exclusive expression of Jbeta1.2 for Vbeta13 was observed. A high frequency of Vbeta13 also was observed at the time of disease progression, but the Jbeta fragment for Vbeta13 was polyclonal. In Patient 2, the restricted usage of Jbeta1.6 for Vbeta5a was observed at the time of disease onset, whereas Jbeta1.1 and 1.2 for Vbeta4 were observed exclusively at the time of disease progression. The clonality of Vbeta13-Jbeta1.2 in Patient 1 and Vbeta5a-Jbeta1.6 and Vbeta4-Jbeta1.1/Jbeta1.2 in Patient 2 was confirmed by SSCP analysis.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that the polyclonal T-cell lymphoproliferative disease associated with EBV was induced after BMT in Patient 1, and that the clonal change of expanded T-cells also was induced by EBV in Patient 2. The clonal analysis of T-cells is a useful tool to clarify the pathogenesis of FHL.