Medical Science Learns More About Lymphomas

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 16, 1999 (Boston) -- Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's B-cell lymphomas are closely related -- a finding that may help guide further research into the management of Hodgkin's disease, report a team of German, Swiss, and U.S. researchers in TheNew England Journal of Medicine.

The study -- by Bräuninger and colleagues from the Universities of Frankfurt, Cologne, and Zurich as well as from the Mayo Clinic -- provides compelling new evidence that Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's B-cell lymphomas arise from a common predecessor (precursor) B-cell.

B-cells are lymphocytes -- large white blood cells -- responsible for the production of immunoglobulins, proteins important in the body's immune response.

The finding provides definitive evidence that Reed-Sternberg cells -- the lymphocytes characteristic of Hodgkin's disease -- derive from B cells. It alsoconfirms what many researchers have long suspected: the close relationship between Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's B-cell lymphomas.

The researchers demonstrated that in two patients who had both diseases -- B-cell lymphoma and Hodgkin's disease -- Reed-Sternberg cells and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cells were derived from the same B-cell type.

The researchers' findings suggest that DNA breaks and repairs on the affected genes could lead to transformation of B cells into cancerous cells. "A lot of the early B-cell leukemias occur" this way, John A. Manis, MD, a geneticist who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, tells WebMD. Manis is a research fellow at Children's Hospital in Boston and an instructor in genetics at Harvard Medical School, Boston.

According to Manis, the study's main finding provides important clues to the molecular origins of lymphomas. "Clearly, something is signaling these B cells to form a classic B-cell lymphoma, and those same cells could also get signals to form Hodgkin's disease. Previously, many scientists thought that Hodgkin's disease was a very separate entity, but now we're putting it in the same category as mature B-cell lymphomas. ... I think this is going to help guide research into Hodgkin's disease to try to figure out how these cells get the signals to become Hodgkin's and not non-Hodgkin's," Manis says. "I think that these mechanisms are going to give us a lot of insights on lymphoma."

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