Although the presence or absence of somatic mutations in the immunoglobulin variable region (IgVH) genes in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) identifies subtypes with very different prognoses, the assay is technically complex and unavailable to most laboratories. CD38 expression has been suggested as a surrogate marker for the 2 subtypes. IgVH mutations and CD38 expression in 145 patients with B-CLL with a long follow-up were compared. The 2 assays gave discordant results in 41 patients (28.3%). Multivariate analysis demonstrated that Binet stage, IgVH mutations and CD38 were independent prognostic indicators. Median survival time in patients whose cells had unmutated IgVH genes and expressed CD38 was 8 years; in those with mutated IgVH genes not expressing CD38, it was 26 years. For those with discordant results, median survival time was 15 years. Thus, although CD38 expression does not identify the same 2 subsets as IgVH mutations in CLL, it is an independent risk factor that can be used with IgVH mutations and clinical stage to select patients with B-CLL with the worst prognoses. Using cryopreserved cells taken at intervals during the course of the disease, however, changes of CD38 expression over time were demonstrated in 10 of 41 patients. Causes of the variation of CD38 expression require further study. Additional prospective studies are required for comparing CD38 expression with other prognostic factors and for taking sequential measurements during the course of the disease
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