Twenty eight out of 170 consecutive cases of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) were examined. They were of T cell origin, with the following distribution: seven (28%) cases had pre-T or prothymic features; nine (36%) cases showed early thymocytic features, six (24%) had cortical features; and three (12%) had a "mature" phenotype. The remaining three cases could not be sub-classified. A striking finding was that pre-T ALL differed from intrathymic ALL not only in the absence of both E rosettes and intrathymic differentiation antigens, but also in the expression of two non-lineage specific antigens HLA-DR and CD10. Both antigens appear in the bone marrow from the very first stages of lymphoid differentiation, implying that the origin for pre-T ALL is bone marrow. A comparison of the clinical features of pre-T and thymic ALL showed that pre-T ALL disease showed a pattern more similar to non-T ALL disease: a lower incidence of mediastinal mass, absence of extrahaematopoietic disease, lower white cell counts and haemoglobin concentrations, and a higher incidence of bone pain. No obvious difference in response to treatment was apparent. The results show that T-ALL is not only a heterogeneous immunological group but also suggest that it may have different origins: bone marrow for pre-T ALL and the thymus for thymic ALL.
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