The case is reported of a 45 year old woman with the rare leukaemia of natural killer cell large granular lymphocyte (NK/ LGL) type. Cytometric analysis of leukaemic blasts showed that they were positive for CD2, CD38, and CD56 antigens but negative for a series of antigens including CD3, CD7, CD16, and HLA-DR. Rearrangements of the beta T cell receptor, and heavy and kappa immunoglobulin genes were not detected and neither were chromosomal abnormalities. Leukaemic blasts developed NK cytotoxicity. The patient failed to respond to aggressive chemotherapy and died three months after diagnosis. The lack of expression of HLA-DR is an extraordinary characteristic of this case, as all cases of acute NK cell leukaemias described to date expressed HLA-DR. The immunophenotype observed in the NK cell leukaemic blasts may represent the counterpart of a hypothetical normal cell precursor in an early stage of ontogenic NK cell development.
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