Demonstration of aberrant T-cell and natural killer-cell antigen expression in all cases of granular lymphocytic leukaemia.
The diagnosis of granular lymphocytic leukaemia (GLL) requires the presence of an immunophenotypically distinct T-cell (T-GLL) or natural killer-cell (NK-GLL) population. Flow cytometric immunophenotyping was performed on 21 T-GLL patients, 11 NK-GLL patients and 20 normal control subjects using antibodies to T and NK cell-associated antigens in order to accurately identify the distinguishing features of T-GLL and NK-GLL. The NK antigens evaluated included: CD16, CD57, CD94, CD161, and the killing inhibitory receptors (KIRs) CD158a, CD158b and CD158e (p70). Abnormal T-antigen expression was present in all T-GLL patients. CD57 was frequently expressed in T-GLL, however, one-third of patients showed partial CD57 expression similar to that seen in T cells from normal control subjects. Ten T-GLL were KIR positive; all expressed a single KIR isoform. All NK-GLL showed a distinctive, abnormal immunophenotype. Four NK-GLL expressed a single KIR isoform; the remaining seven patients lacked all tested KIRs, which is also a distinct, abnormal finding. Immunoperoxidase staining of bone marrow biopsy specimens from NK-GLL patients with antibodies to CD8, TIA-1 and granzyme B revealed the disease-specific distinctive staining patterns previously found in T-GLL. These studies delineate the unique immunophenotypic features diagnostic of T-GLL and provide strong evidence that NK-GLL, like T-GLL, represents a clonal lymphoproliferative disorder.