Background: Associations of Hodgkin's lymphoma with HLA have been reported for many years. In 20-40% of patients with this disorder, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is present in the neoplastic cells. Because presentation of EBV antigenic peptides can elicit vigorous immune responses, we investigated associations of the HLA region with EBV-positive and EBV-negative Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Methods: In a retrospective, population-based study, patients with Hodgkin's lymphoma were reclassified according to the WHO classification, and EBV status was assessed by in-situ hybridisation of EBV-encoded small RNAs. Germline DNA was isolated from 200 patients diagnosed between 1987 and 2000 and from their first-degree relatives. Genotyping was done with 33 microsatellite markers spanning the entire HLA region and two single-nucleotide polymorphisms in the genes for tumour necrosis factor alpha and beta. Classic association analysis and the haplotype sharing statistic were used to compare patients with controls.
Findings: Classic association analysis (but not the haplotype sharing statistic) showed an association of consecutive markers D6S265 and D6S510 (p=0.0002 and 0.0003), located in the HLA class I region, with EBV-positive lymphomas. The haplotype sharing statistic (but not classic association analysis) showed a significant difference in mean haplotype sharing between patients and controls surrounding marker D6S273 (p=0.00003), located in HLA class III.
Interpretation: Areas within the HLA class I and class III regions are associated with susceptibility to Hodgkin's lymphoma, the association with class I being specific for EBV-positive disease. This finding strongly suggests that antigenic presentation of EBV-derived peptides is involved in the pathogenesis of EBV-involved Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Relevance to practice: Polymorphisms in the HLA region could explain ethnic variation in the incidence of Hodgkin's lymphoma. The association of EBV-positive Hodgkin's lymphoma with HLA class I suggests that this polymorphism might affect the proper presentation of EBV antigens to cytotoxic T lymphocytes.