Post-Transformation IGHV-IGHD-IGHJ Mutations in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia B Cells: Implications for Mutational Mechanisms and Impact on Clinical Course

Davide Bagnara, Catherine Tang, Jennifer R. Brown, Siddha Kasar, Stacey Fernandes, Monica Colombo, Stefano Vergani, Andrea N. Mazzarello, Fabio Ghiotto, Silvia Bruno, Fortunato Morabito, Kanti R. Rai, Jonathan E. Kolitz, Jacqueline C. Barrientos, Steven L. Allen, Franco Fais, Matthew D. Scharff, Thomas MacCarthy, Nicholas Chiorazzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Analyses of IGHV gene mutations in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) have had a major impact on the prognostication and treatment of this disease. A hallmark of IGHV-mutation status is that it very rarely changes clonally over time. Nevertheless, targeted and deep DNA sequencing of IGHV-IGHD-IGHJ regions has revealed intraclonal heterogeneity. We used a DNA sequencing approach that achieves considerable depth and minimizes artefacts and amplification bias to identify IGHV-IGHD-IGHJ subclones in patients with prolonged temporal follow-up. Our findings extend previous studies, revealing intraclonal IGHV-IGHD-IGHJ diversification in almost all CLL clones. Also, they indicate that some subclones with additional IGHV-IGHD-IGHJ mutations can become a large fraction of the leukemic burden, reaching numerical criteria for monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis. Notably, the occurrence and complexity of post-transformation IGHV-IGHD-IGHJ heterogeneity and the expansion of diversified subclones are similar among U-CLL and M-CLL patients. The molecular characteristics of the mutations present in the parental, clinically dominant CLL clone (CDC) differed from those developing post-transformation (post-CDC). Post-CDC mutations exhibit significantly lower fractions of mutations bearing signatures of activation induced deaminase (AID) and of error-prone repair by Polη, and most of the mutations were not ascribable to those enzymes. Additionally, post-CDC mutations displayed a lower percentage of nucleotide transitions compared with transversions that was also not like the action of AID. Finally, the post-CDC mutations led to significantly lower ratios of replacement to silent mutations in VH CDRs and higher ratios in VH FRs, distributions different from mutations found in normal B-cell subsets undergoing an AID-mediated process. Based on these findings, we propose that post-transformation mutations in CLL cells either reflect a dysfunctional standard somatic mutational process or point to the action of another mutational process not previously associated with IG V gene loci. If the former option is the case, post-CDC mutations could lead to a lesser dependence on antigen dependent BCR signaling and potentially a greater influence of off-target, non-IG genomic mutations. Alternatively, the latter activity could add a new stimulatory survival/growth advantage mediated by the BCR through structurally altered FRs, such as that occurring by superantigen binding and stimulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number640731
JournalFrontiers in Oncology
StatePublished - May 25 2021


  • activation-induced deaminase
  • chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • immunoglobulin genes
  • mutation mechanisms
  • somatic mutations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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