Molecular Genetic and DNA Methylation Profiling of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia : A Focus on Divergent Prognostic Subgroups and Subsets

Abstract: Advancements in prognostication have improved the subdivision of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) into diverse prognostic subgroups. In CLL, IGHV unmutated and IGHV3-21 genes are associated with a poor-prognosis, conversely, IGHV mutated genes with a favourable outcome. The finding of multiple CLL subsets expressing ‘stereotyped’ B-cell receptors (BCRs) has suggested a role for antigen(s) in leukemogenesis. Patients belonging to certain stereotyped subsets share clinical and biological characteristics, yet limited knowledge exists regarding the genetic and epigenetic events that may influence their clinical behaviour. This thesis aimed to, further investigate Swedish IGHV3-21-utilising patients, screen for genetic and DNA-methylation events in CLL subgroups/subsets and study DNA methylation over time and within different CLL compartments. In paper I, IGHV gene sequencing of 337 CLL patients from a Swedish population-based cohort revealed a lower (6.5%) IGHV3-21 frequency relative to previous Swedish hospital-based studies (10.1-12.7%). Interestingly, this frequency remained higher compared to other Western CLL (2.6-4.1%) hospital-based cohorts. Furthermore, we confirmed the poor-outcome for IGHV3-21 patients to be independent of mutational and stereotypy status. In paper II, genomic events in stereotyped IGHV3-21-subset #2, IGHV4-34-subset #4 and subset #16 and their non-stereotyped counterparts were investigated via SNP arrays (n=101). Subset #2 and non-subset #2 carried a higher frequency of events compared to subset #4. A high frequency of del(11q) was evident in IGHV3-21 patients particularly subset #2 cases, which may partially explain their poor-prognosis. In contrast, the lower prevalence of aberrations and absence of poor-prognostic alterations may reflect the inherent low-proliferative disease seen in subset #4 cases. In papers III and IV, differential methylation profiles in IGHV mutated and IGHV unmutated patients were identified using DNA-methylation microarrays. CLL prognostic genes (CLLU1, LPL), tumor-suppressor genes (TSGs) (ABI3, WISP3) and genes belonging to TGF-ß and NF-kB/TNFR1 pathways were differentially methylated between the subgroups. Additionally, the re-expression of methylated TSGs by use of methyl and deacetyl inhibitors was demonstrated. Interestingly, analysis of patient-paired diagnostic/follow-up samples and patient-matched lymph node (LN) and peripheral blood (PB) cases revealed global DNA methylation to be relatively stable over time and remarkably similar within the different compartments. Altogether, this thesis provides insight into the aberrant genomic and DNA methylation events in divergent CLL subgroups. Moreover this thesis helps distinguish the extent to which DNA methylation changes with respect to time and microenvironment in CLL.