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Primary chronic cold agglutinin disease: an update on pathogenesis, clinical features and therapy.

Chronic cold agglutinin disease (CAD) is a subgroup of autoimmune hemolytic anemia. Primary CAD has traditionally been defined by the absence of any underlying or associated disease. The results of therapy with corticosteroids, alkylating agents and interferon-alpha have been poor. Cold reactive immunoglobulins against erythrocyte surface antigens are essential to pathogenesis of CAD. These cold agglutinins are monoclonal, usually IgMkappa autoantibodies with heavy chain variable regions encoded by the V(H)4-34 gene segment. By flowcytometric and immunohistochemical assessments, a monoclonal CD20+kappa+B-lymphocyte population has been demonstrated in the bone marrow of 90% of the patients, and lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma is a frequent finding. Novel attempts at treatment for primary CAD have mostly been directed against the clonal B-lymphocytes. Phase 2 studies have shown that therapy with the chimeric anti-CD20 antibody rituximab produced partial response rates of more than 50% and occasional complete responses. Median response duration, however, was only 11 months. In this review, we discuss the clinical and pathogenetic features of primary CAD, emphasizing the more recent data on its close association with clonal lymphoproliferative bone marrow disorders and implications for therapy. We also review the management and outline some perspectives on new therapy modalities.

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