AIMS: To investigate whether the antigen levels of the B cell lineage markers CD19 and CD20 can distinguish between normal and neoplastic B cells or characterise distinct expression patterns among the chronic B cell leukaemias. METHODS: Peripheral blood cells from 70 patients with B cell disorders and 17 healthy donors were analysed by quantitative flow cytometry. Direct immunofluorescence staining was performed with phycoerythrin conjugated CD19 and CD20 monoclonal antibodies. Standard microbeads with different capacities to bind mouse immunoglobulins were used to convert the mean fluorescence intensity (MFI) values into number of antigen molecules/cell, expressed as antibody binding capacity (ABC). RESULTS: CD19 and CD20 ABC values in leukaemic B cells differed from those of normal blood B lymphocytes. The results identified distinct profiles of CD19 and CD20 expression in the various types of B cell leukaemias. In all leukaemias studied except hairy cell leukaemia (HCL), CD19 expression was significantly lower than the mean (SD) value in normal B cells (22 (7) x 10(3) molecules/cell), as follows: chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), 13 (7) x 10(3); B prolymphocytic leukaemia (B-PLL), 16 (9) x 10(3); splenic lymphoma with villous lymphocytes (SLVL), 15 (11) x 10(3); mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), 10 (7) x 10(3). In HCL there was strong CD19 expression (38 (16) x 10(3)). In contrast, the level of expression of membrane CD20 was higher than the mean (SD) value in normal B cells (94 (16) x 10(3) molecules/cell) in MCL (123 (51) x 10(3)); B-PLL (129 (47) x 10(3)); SLVL (167 (72) x 10(3)); and HCL (312 (110) x 10(3)); while it was significantly lower (65 (11) x 10(3)) in CLL compared with normal B cells and the other B cell leukaemias. CONCLUSIONS: Quantitative determination of CD19 and CD20 may provide useful diagnostic information for the study of B lymphoproliferative disorders.
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