Although the diagnosis of canine leukemia and lymphoma in advanced stages is usually uncomplicated, some presentations of the disease can be a diagnostic challenge. In certain situations, lymphoma and leukemia can be difficult to distinguish from a benign reactive proliferation of lymphocytes. Because clonality is the hallmark of malignancy, we have developed an assay that uses the polymerase chain reaction to amplify the variable regions of immunoglobulin genes and T-cell receptor genes to detect the presence of a clonal lymphocyte population. The assay detected clonally rearranged antigen receptor genes in 91% of the 77 dogs with lymphoid malignancy. Of the 24 dogs tested, that were either healthy or had clearly defined conditions not related to lymphoid malignancy, a clonally rearranged antigen receptor gene was found in one (a dog with Ehrlichia canis infection). Gene rearrangement was appropriate for the immunophenotype (immunoglobulin gene rearrangement in B-cell leukemias and T-cell receptor gene rearrangement in T-cell leukemias). Dilution analysis showed that the clonal rearrangement could be detected when 0.1-10% of the DNA was derived from neoplastic cells, depending on the source tissue. Potential applications of this assay include the diagnosis of lymphoma or leukemia in biopsy samples, cavity fluids, fine needle aspirates, bone marrow and peripheral blood; the determination of lineage (B or T cell); staging of lymphoma; and detection of residual disease after chemotherapy.
- Gene rearrangement
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