Blastoid high-grade B-cell lymphoma initially presenting in bone marrow: a diagnostic challenge

Mod Pathol. 2022 Mar;35(3):419-426. doi: 10.1038/s41379-021-00909-4. Epub 2021 Oct 4.


The 2016 WHO classification introduced the category of high-grade B-cell lymphoma (HGBL), which includes one poorly understood subset, blastoid-HGBL. Establishing the diagnosis and distinguishing blastoid-HGBL from B-acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) in bone marrow can be challenging. We assessed 31 cases of blastoid-HGBL diagnosed initially in bone marrow and compared this group to 36 cases of B-ALL using immunophenotyping, fluorescence in situ hybridization, and targeted next generation sequencing analysis. The 31 blastoid-HGBL cases included 14 HGBL with MYC and BCL2 and/or BCL6 rearrangements (double hit lymphoma, DHL), 13 HGBL, not otherwise specified (NOS), and four cases with TdT expression that were difficult to classify. Compared with B-ALL, blastoid-HGBL cases more often showed increased intensity/bright expression of CD20, CD38, CD45, BCL-6, and MYC, and less frequent bright expression of CD10 and TdT. Cases of blastoid-HGBL also more frequently had MYC rearrangement, a complex karyotype and TP53 mutation (p < 0.01). With the exception of CD34, no other single factor, including TdT, was sensitive or adequately specific to distinguish blastoid-HGBL from B-ALL. We developed a scoring system using six distinctive features between 16 cases of unequivocal blastoid HGBL and 22 cases of CD34-positive B-ALL, with a score of ≥3 defining blastoid-HGBL. The system was further validated by using 15 cases of surface light chain negative, and/or CD45 dim to negative blastoid-HGBL and 14 cases of CD34-negative B-ALL. The sensitivity, specificity, positive, and negative predictive value of this scoring system were 100%, 94%, 94%, and 100%, respectively. Using this system, the four cases with TdT expression were all classified as blastoid-HGBL: three were DHL and one was HGBL-NOS. In conclusion, blastoid-HGBL shows distinctive immunophenotypic, cytogenetic, and molecular features as compared with B-ALL. The proposed scoring system can be helpful for the classification of diagnostically challenging blastoid lymphoid tumors presenting initially in the bone marrow.

MeSH terms

  • Bone Marrow / pathology
  • Burkitt Lymphoma* / genetics
  • Gene Rearrangement
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Lymphoma, B-Cell* / diagnosis
  • Lymphoma, B-Cell* / genetics
  • Lymphoma, B-Cell* / pathology
  • Lymphoma, Large B-Cell, Diffuse* / pathology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-6 / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / genetics


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-6
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc