Analysis of Secondary V(D)J Rearrangements in Mature, Peripheral T Cells of Ataxia-Telangiectasia Heterozygotes

Erica Lantelme, Valentina Turinetto, Stefania Mantovani, Antonietta Marchi, Silvia Regazzoni, Paola Porcedda, Mario De Marchi, Claudia Giachino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ataxia-telangiectasia (AT) is a rare recessive disease with pleiotropic involvement of the nervous and lymphoid systems. AT heterozygotes have a population frequency of about 1%, and although not manifesting any overt clinical symptoms, they have an increased mortality, mainly because of cancer and ischemic heart disease. We and others have described a mature T lymphocyte population with an altered T cell receptor surface expression ("TCR variant") that reactivates the recombination activating genes (RAG) and is expanded in the blood of patients with AT. In view of the known role of V(D)J recombination in the onset of tumorigenic translocations, we proposed that the increased RAG activity was responsible for the predisposition of AT homozygotes to develop mature-type T leukemia/lymphoma. In the present report, we used cytofluorimetry to quantify the TCR variant population and the memory/ naïve T-cell compartments in the blood of AT heterozygotes compared with AT patients and controls. We assessed the expression of different recombinase genes through RT-PCR/oligotyping and cytofluorometric analysis and searched for rearrangement intermediates by ligase-mediated PCR in T-cell lines from four heterozygous carriers. We found the TCR variant population was increased on average 2x in AT heterozygotes (vs 10x in homozygotes) compared with controls, and naïve CD4+ T lymphocytes were reduced on average 0.5x (vs 0.1x in homozygotes). We were able to demonstrate recombinase gene expression in all four heterozygous T-cell lines, and rearrangement intermediates, indicative of ongoing V(D)J recombination, in two. These rearrangements were compatible with V-gene replacement, a mechanism of receptor editing described for Ig and TCRα genes, to our knowledge not previously documented for TCRβ. In conclusion, we found that RAG reactivation and secondary V(D)J rearrangements, potential risk factors of mature-type leukemia in AT homozygotes, also take place in AT heterozygous carriers and might place this large population fraction at an increased risk of leukemia/lymphoma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1467-1475
Number of pages9
JournalLaboratory Investigation
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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