ALK-positive lymphoma: a single disease with a broad spectrum of morphology

Blood. 1998 Mar 15;91(6):2076-84.


The t(2;5)(p23;q35) translocation, associated with anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (ALCL), results in the expression of a chimeric NPM-ALK protein that can be detected by the ALK1 monoclonal antibody. This report describes the morphologic and phenotypic spectrum of 123 cases of lymphoma that all express ALK protein. The results provide strong evidence that the morphologic patterns of ALCL described in previous reports as representing possible subtypes of ALCL, eg, common type, lymphohistiocytic, or small cell patterns, are morphologic variants of the same disease entity. All of these morphologic patterns could be found within this series, and in some patients different subtypes coexisted in a single biopsy or were found in successive biopsies from a single patient. The link between these morphologic subtypes is further reinforced by the presence in all cases of a highly characteristic large cell, with an eccentric nucleus and an eosinophilic paranuclear region. We suggest that this cell can be considered as a major distinguishing feature of ALK-positive lymphomas. Another characteristic of these tumors was the perivascular pattern of neoplastic cell infiltration seen in a significant number of cases. In addition to ALK protein, all tumors expressed epithelial membrane antigen and lacked CD15, features that may be of value in differentiating ALCL from Hodgkin's disease. In the majority of cases (84%), malignant cells showed both a cytoplasmic and nuclear staining for ALK1 and thus presumably carried the 2;5 translocation, but staining was restricted to the cytoplasm in a few cases, suggesting that translocations other than t(2;5) may induce expression of ALK protein. We conclude from this study that ALK-positive neoplasms represent a distinct entity. Because their morphology is often neither anaplastic nor large cell, we suggest that they should henceforward be referred to as ALK lymphomas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Cell Nucleus / chemistry
  • Cell Nucleus / ultrastructure
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 2 / genetics*
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 2 / ultrastructure
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 5 / genetics*
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 5 / ultrastructure
  • Cytoplasm / chemistry
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Fibrosis
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Ki-1 Antigen / analysis
  • Lymphoma, Large B-Cell, Diffuse / classification
  • Lymphoma, Large B-Cell, Diffuse / diagnosis
  • Lymphoma, Large B-Cell, Diffuse / genetics*
  • Lymphoma, Large B-Cell, Diffuse / pathology
  • Lymphoma, T-Cell / diagnosis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Proteins / analysis
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / ultrastructure
  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion / analysis
  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion / genetics*
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / analysis
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / genetics*
  • Translocation, Genetic*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Ki-1 Antigen
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion
  • p80(NPM-ALK) protein
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases