Molecular history of Richter syndrome: Origin from a cell already present at the time of chronic lymphocytic leukemia diagnosis

Davide Rossi, Valeria Spina, Francesco Forconi, Daniela Capello, Marco Fangazio, Silvia Rasi, Maurizio Martini, Valter Gattei, Antonio Ramponi, Luigi M. Larocca, Francesco Bertoni, Gianluca Gaidano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Richter syndrome (RS) represents the transformation of chronic lymphocytic leukemia to aggressive lymphoma. We explored intraclonal diversification (ID) of immunoglobulin genes in order to (i) follow the evolutionary history of the RS clone (ii) compare the role of ID in clonally related RS vs. clonally unrelated cases. Most (10/11, 90.9%) clonally related RS stem from the predominant clone observed at CLL diagnosis. One single RS had a transformation pattern compatible with sequential evolution from a secondary CLL subclone. Once RS transformation had occurred, all secondary CLL subclones disappeared and were substituted by the dominant RS clone with its own descendants. These observations suggest that genetic lesions associated with RS transformation are acquired by a cell belonging to the original CLL clone, rather than being progressively accumulated by later CLL subclones. Accordingly, most (9/11, 81.1%) clonally related RS harbored a genetic lesion disrupting TP53 that was already present, though at subclonal levels, in 5/11 (45.5%) samples of the paired CLL phase. A fraction of clonally related RS switched off ID (4/11, 36.4%) or reduced the levels of ID (5/11, 45.4%) at transformation. Conversely, all clonally unrelated RS harbored ID and were characterized by a significantly higher mutation frequency compared to clonally related RS (median: 1.18 × 10 -3 vs. 0.13 × 10 -3; p =0.002). These data indicate that (i) clonally related RS stems from a cell that is already present within the initial CLL clone and (ii) clonally unrelated and clonally related RS are biologically distinct disorders also in terms of antigen affinity maturation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3006-3010
Number of pages5
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Jun 15 2012


  • chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • clonal evolution
  • immunoglobulin gene
  • intraclonal diversification
  • Richter syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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