AIMS: Differentiation between actinic reticuloid and cutaneous T cell lymphoma can be extremely difficult. Demonstration of clonal T cell receptor (TCR) gene rearrangements has been suggested as a potential diagnostic criterion, but the results obtained thus far have been conflicting. This study investigated whether TCR gamma gene rearrangement analysis, using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in combination with denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and immunohistochemistry, can serve as a diagnostic criterion. METHODS: PCR/DGGE was performed on skin, peripheral blood mononuclear cells, and/or lymph nodes of seven patients with actinic reticuloid, 11 patients with Sézary syndrome, and 15 patients with a benign form of erythroderma. The results of PCR/DGGE and Southern blot analysis of TCR beta gene rearrangements were compared. In addition, CD4:CD8 ratios in skin and peripheral blood samples were investigated. RESULTS: Clonal T cell populations were detected in 19 of 21 samples obtained from patients with Sézary syndrome but were not detected in any of the 12 samples from patients with actinic reticuloid. Clonal T cells were detected in the peripheral blood of only one of 15 patients with a benign form of erythroderma. PCR/DGGE and Southern blot analysis gave concordant results in 28 of 29 samples. Immunophenotypic analysis demonstrated increased proportions of CD8+ T cells in skin (seven of seven cases) and peripheral blood (four of seven cases) of patients with actinic reticuloid. CONCLUSION: The results of this study demonstrate that gene rearrangement analysis, in combination with immunohistochemistry, may be an important adjunct in differentiating between actinic reticuloid and cutaneous T cell lymphoma. In patients suspected of having actinic reticuloid, application of both techniques is recommended.
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