Down-regulation of CD20 expression in B-cell lymphoma cells after treatment with rituximab-containing combination chemotherapies: its prevalence and clinical significance

Junji Hiraga, Akihiro Tomita, Takumi Sugimoto, Kazuyuki Shimada, Masafumi Ito, Shigeo Nakamura, Hitoshi Kiyoi, Tomohiro Kinoshita, Tomoki Naoe
Blood 2009 May 14, 113 (20): 4885-93
Although rituximab is a key molecular targeting drug for CD20-positive B-cell lymphomas, resistance to rituximab has recently been recognized as a considerable problem. Here, we report that a CD20-negative phenotypic change after chemotherapies with rituximab occurs in a certain number of CD20-positive B-cell lymphoma patients. For 5 years, 124 patients with B-cell malignancies were treated with rituximab-containing chemotherapies in Nagoya University Hospital. Relapse or progression was confirmed in 36 patients (29.0%), and a rebiopsy was performed in 19 patients. Of those 19, 5 (26.3%; diffuse large B-cell lymphoma [DLBCL], 3 cases; DLBCL transformed from follicular lymphoma, 2 cases) indicated CD20 protein-negative transformation. Despite salvage chemotherapies without rituximab, all 5 patients died within 1 year of the CD20-negative transformation. Quantitative reverse-transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) showed that CD20 mRNA expression was significantly lower in CD20-negative cells than in CD20-positive cells obtained from the same patient. Interestingly, when CD20-negative cells were treated with 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine in vitro, the expression of CD20 mRNA was stimulated within 3 days, resulting in the restoration of both cell surface expression of the CD20 protein and rituximab sensitivity. These findings suggest that some epigenetic mechanisms may be partly related to the down-regulation of CD20 expression after rituximab treatment.

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