Flow Cytometric Evaluation of Surface and Cytoplasmic TRBC1 Expression in the Differential Diagnosis of Immature T-Cell Proliferations

Am J Clin Pathol. 2022 Jan 6;157(1):64-72. doi: 10.1093/ajcp/aqab098.


Objectives: Flow cytometric detection of T-cell clonality is challenging, particularly in differential diagnosis of immature T-cell proliferations. Studies have shown utility of TRBC1, in conjunction with other T-cell markers, as reliable means to identify T-cell clonality by flow cytometry. One limitation of surface TRBC1 (sTRBC1) evaluation is it cannot be detected in surface CD3 (sCD3)-negative T cells, such as normal or abnormal immature T-cell precursors. Here, we assess surface and cytoplasmic TRBC1 expression patterns in the differential diagnosis of T-lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoma (T-ALL) vs normal thymocyte expansions.

Methods: Forty-three samples containing T-ALL, thymoma, normal thymus, and/or indolent T-lymphoblastic proliferation (i-TLBP), were evaluated.

Results: All 24 cases with normal thymocytes or i-TLBPs revealed a characteristic and reproducible sCD3/sTRBC1 expression pattern indicative of polytypic T-cell maturation. In contrast, all 19 T-ALLs lacked this polytypic maturation pattern and were either completely negative for sCD3/sTRBC1 or showed a minor sCD3-positive subset with a monotypic TRBC1 expression pattern. Cytoplasmic TRBC1 evaluation in 9 T-ALLs demonstrated a monotypic intracellular TRBC1-positive (n = 4) or TRBC1-negative (n = 5) expression, indicative of clonality.

Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate flow cytometric evaluation of surface and cytoplasmic TRBC1 expression can aid detection of T-cell clonality and differential diagnosis of immature T-cell proliferations.

Keywords: Flow cytometry; T-ALL; T-cell clonality; TRBC1; Thymoma.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Proliferation
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • T-Lymphocytes*
  • Thymus Neoplasms*