An approach to diagnosis of T-cell lymphoproliferative disorders by flow cytometry

Cytometry. 2002 Jun 15;50(3):177-90. doi: 10.1002/cyto.10003.


T-cell lymphoproliferative disorders are among the most challenging diagnoses in hematopathology. Unlike the more common B-cell disorders, in which clonality is often readily discernible by surface immunoglobulin light chain restriction, there is no specific immunophenotypic signature that is diagnostic of a clonal T-cell population. Immunophenotypic criteria that are helpful in the diagnosis of T-cell neoplasms include T-cell subset antigen restriction, anomalous T-cell subset antigen expression, deletion or diminution of one of the pan T-cell antigens, a precursor T-cell phenotype, and expression of additional markers (e.g., CD30, CD20, major myeloid antigens, and TCRgammadelta). Analysis of the inherent forward and orthogonal light scatter properties of the cell can also provide important diagnostic clues. None of these features is 100% specific, however, for aberrant expression of pan-T antigens may be seen in viral infections, B-cell malignancies, or in reactive changes following administration of certain medications. An increased CD4:CD8 ratio is often observed in Hodgkin's lymphoma. Based on the analysis of 87 neoplastic and 80 control cases, we conclude that flow cytometric features that are most suspicious for malignancy include the loss or markedly dim expression of CD45; complete loss of one or more pan-T antigens; diminished expression of more than two pan-T antigens in conjunction with altered light scatter properties; and CD4/CD8 dual-positive or dual-negative expression (except thymic lesions).

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • CD4 Antigens / analysis
  • CD8 Antigens / analysis
  • Child
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / immunology
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / analysis
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens / metabolism
  • Lymphoproliferative Disorders / classification
  • Lymphoproliferative Disorders / diagnosis*
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology*


  • CD4 Antigens
  • CD8 Antigens
  • Leukocyte Common Antigens