American Journal of Pathology vol:158 issue:6 pages:2185-2193
Anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) is frequently associated with the t(2;5)(p23;q35) translocation. It creates a NPM-ALK fusion gene, fusing the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene (2p23) and the nucleophosmin (NPM) gene (5q35). Other rearrangements involving the ALK gene have recently been shown to be associated with ALCL, among which the ATIC-ALK rearrangement resulting from the inv(2)(p23q35) translocation is probably the most recurrent. The aims of the present study were to investigate the presence of NPM-ALK and ATIC-ALK fusion genes in ALCL, using a real-time 5' exonuclease-based reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). This sensitive technique was also applied to investigate whether both fusion genes might be detected in Hodgkin's disease cases and in reactive lymphoid tissue. Results of the RT-PCR were compared to ALK immunostaining, cytogenetics, and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) results. RT-PCR detected the NPM-ALK and ATIC-ALK fusions at high levels in 8 and 3 of a total of 13 ALK-positive ALCL cases. One ALK-positive ALCL case was negative for both fusion genes analyzed but revealed a new ALK-related translocation t(2;17)(p23;q25) by cytogenetic and FISH analysis. In addition, of the eight ALK-positive ALCL cases that were strongly positive for the NPM-ALK fusion, three cases also showed the presence of the ATIC-ALK fusion, although at much lower levels. Similarly, out of the three strongly positive ATIC-ALK cases, one case was positive for the NPM-ALK fusion, at low levels. Finally, the NPM-ALK and the ATIC-ALK fusions were detected, at equally low levels, respectively in 13 and 5 ALK-negative ALCL cases, in 11 and 5 Hodgkin's disease cases and in 20 and 1 non-neoplastic lymphoid tissues. The distinction between the high- and low-level detection was confirmed by relative quantitative RT-PCR for a representative number of cases. Of interest is the fact that the high-level detection coincided with the presence of ALK gene rearrangement detected by cytogenetics and FISH and may reflect a central role of the transcript in the oncogenic mechanism of ALK-positive ALCL. Low-level detection is not supported by cytogenetics and FISH, presumably due to the presence of the transcripts in only a small minority of normal cells not detectable by these techniques. Our findings demonstrate that NPM-ALK and ATIC-ALK fusion transcripts may be detected in conditions other than ALK-positive ALCL including reactive lymphoid tissues, although at low levels, suggesting the presence of the transcripts in normal (bystander) cells. Moreover, they suggest that the ALK gene rearrangement by itself might be insufficient to induce tumor formation. They further question the validity of quantitative real-time RT-PCR for monitoring minimal residual disease in ALCL. Finally, the newly identified translocation t(2;17)(p23;q25) can be added to the list of ALK gene rearrangements occurring in ALK-positive ALCL.