Burkitt's lymphoma (BL) is a monoclonal lymphoproliferative disorder characterized by the presence of specific chromosomal translocations that involve the c-myc proto-oncogene. Two subtypes of BL exist (endemic and sporadic) that differ in the prevalence of EBV genome expression. Although EBV infection may promote cellular proliferation in endemic BL, little is known about the forces that drive clonal expansion and evolution in the majority of EBV-negative sporadic BL. This study on an EBV-negative sporadic BL cell line derived from an AIDS patient provides evidence that antigenic stimulation may play a role in the development and/or expansion of such tumors. This cell line (BRG-P) contained a series of cellular clones that elaborated both IgM and IgA. Southern blot analyses of the line and its sublines indicated that both the IgM+ and IgA+ cells had identical c-myc and Ig JH gene rearrangements, indicating that they were derived from a common precursor, some of which eventually underwent an isotype switch. Ig VH gene sequence analyses of 21 molecular clones derived from the parental BRG BL line and two of its sublines demonstrated that all the clones used the same VH3 gene. Five unique intraclonal variants were identified at four distinct nucleotide positions (125, 161, 355, 375), which undoubtedly represented somatic mutations. Four of these five mutations occurred within complementary determining regions; all resulted in amino acid replacements. Moreover, an identical G to A nucleotide substitution that resulted in an identical amino acid change occurred at two distinct points in clonal evolution that were separated by the isotype class switch. Thus, the locations and types of the VH gene mutations, together with the occurrence of an isotype switch, are highly suggestive of an ongoing role for Ag stimulation and selection in the evolution of the malignant clone.

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