Defining clinically relevant subgroups of follicular lymphoma cases according to the functional status of the CDKN2A gene
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Follicular lymphoma (FL) is the second most common non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). FL is clinically designated as an indolent disease with a long median survival of 8-10 years. However, the clinical and biological behavior of FL shows considerable variability, with some patients showing aggressive disease progression and very short survival. Because defects in the regulation of apoptotic cell death are fundamental in FL pathogenesis, we hypothesized that deregulated expression of components of the pRb signaling pathway may promote cell proliferation, thereby complementing antecedent anti-apoptotic mutations and producing more aggressive disease. In the present study we undertook an immunohistochemical (IHC) evaluation of expression of key cell-cycle regulatory proteins in diagnostic biopsies from 127 cases of FL using formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissues (FFPE) in tissue microarray (TMA) sections immunostained for p53, pRb, p16INK4A and cyclin D3. Data analysis revealed that increased abundance of p53 or p16INK4A is associated with reduced overall survival (OS) (p=0.005 and p=0.014 respectively), and with conventional pathological markers of tumour aggressiveness including high histologic grade. Encouraged by this remarkable finding of a counterintuitive association between p16INK4A expression and clinical outcome, we analyzed CDKN2A gene deletion and methylation, as these are the most frequent mechanisms of the CDKN2A gene inactivation in NHL including FL. We determined the deletion and methylation status of CDKN2A in 105 FL cases. Laser-capture microdissection was used to enrich the samples for lymphoma cells. CDKN2A was deleted in 9 cases and methylated in 22 cases. The 29 cases (28%) with CDKN2A deletion or methylation had decreased overall survival (OS) (p=0.046) in all cases and in cases treated with rituximab (p<0.001). Our findings indicate that deleterious alterations of CDKN2A are relatively prevalent in FL at diagnosis and can predict poor clinical outcome. In summary, our data reveal novel insights into the pathogenesis of FL and suggest a relationship between increased p16INK4A expression and CDKN2A deletion or methylation and unfavorable clinical outcome in FL. We hope that the work presented herein will provide a useful prognostic tool for predicting the prognosis and choosing optimal treatment approaches to help patients suffering from FL.