First line drug treatment of follicular lymphoma (FL) patients is followed by a highly variable disease-free time before relapse in about one third of patients. No molecular marker is able to predict efficiently the risk of relapse. We investigated the expression profile of microRNAs (miRNAs) by microarrays and of the tumor microenvironment by immunohistochemistry in 26 FLs and 12 reactive lymph nodes (rLN) as reference. Twenty-nine miRNAs were differentially expressed in FLs compared to rLNs and some of them discriminated grade 1 from 3a FLs. Both FLs and rLNs displayed molecular heterogeneity. FLs grouped into two clusters mostly driven by the tumor T-cell content. Among 21 drug-treated FL patients with an average follow-up of 13.5 years, eight cases relapsed. Twenty-six miRNAs discriminated between relapsed and non-relapsed FLs. Ten miRNAs also correlated with Foxp3+ cells number. Notably, Foxp3+ cells were significantly less in relapsed patients and lower Foxp3+ cell number associated with shorter time-to-relapse. Foxp3+ cells did not co-expressed follicular helper T-cell markers and were therefore classified as regulatory T cells rather than follicular regulatory T-cells. These findings introduce new knowledge about the relationship between miRNA alterations and infiltrating immune cells and show that Foxp3+ cells might be predictive of disease relapse.
Keywords: Foxp3; follicular lymphoma; heterogeneity; microRNAs; relapse.