Clonotypic heterogeneity in cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (mycosis fungoides) revealed by comprehensive whole-exome sequencing

Aishwarya Iyer, Dylan Hennessey, Sandra O’Keefe, Jordan Patterson, Weiwei Wang, Thomas Salopek, Gane Ka-Shu Wong and Robert Gniadecki

Key Points

  • Whole-exome sequencing allows simultaneous identification of recombined TCRα, TCRβ, and TCRγ sequences and their expression.

  • Tumor cell percentage calculated using exome data eliminates the need for arbitrary thresholds for reactive T-cell contamination in samples.


Mycosis fungoides (MF), the most common type of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, is believed to represent a clonal expansion of a transformed skin-resident memory T cell. T-cell receptor (TCR) clonality (ie, identical sequences of rearranged TCRα, TCRβ, and TCRγ), the key premise of this hypothesis, has been difficult to document conclusively because malignant cells are not readily distinguishable from the tumor-infiltrating reactive lymphocytes that contribute to the TCR clonotypic repertoire of MF. Here, we have successfully adopted targeted whole-exome sequencing (WES) to identify the repertoire of rearranged TCR genes in tumor-enriched samples from patients with MF. Although some of the investigated MF biopsies had the expected frequency of monoclonal rearrangements of TCRγ corresponding to that of tumor cells, the majority of the samples presented multiple TCRγ, TCRα, and TCRβ clonotypes by WES. Our findings are compatible with the model in which the initial malignant transformation in MF does not occur in mature memory T cells but rather at the level of T-lymphocyte progenitors before TCRβ or TCRα rearrangements. We have also shown that WES can be combined with whole-transcriptome sequencing in the same sample, which enables comprehensive characterization of the TCR repertoire in relation to tumor content. WES/whole-transcriptome sequencing might be applicable to other types of T-cell lymphomas to determine clonal dominance and clonotypic heterogeneity in these malignancies.

  • Submitted October 18, 2018.
  • Accepted February 26, 2019.
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