by Martin Trepel, Victoria Martens, Christian Doll, Janina Rahlff, Barbara Gösch, Sonja Loges, Mascha Binder
In multiple myeloma, circulating “clonotypic” B cells, that express the immunoglobulin rearrangement of the malignant plasma cell clone, can be indirectly detected by PCR. Their role as potential “feeder” cells for the malignant plasma cell pool remains controversial. Here we established for the first time an approach that allows direct tracking of such clonotypic cells by labeling with patient-specific immunoglobulin ligands in 15 patients with myeloma. Fifty percent of patients showed evidence of clonotypic B cells in blood or bone marrow by PCR. Epitope-mimicking peptides from random libraries were selected on each patient's individual immunoglobulin and used as ligands to trace cells expressing the idiotypic immunoglobulin on their surface. We established a flow cytometry and immunofluorescence protocol to track clonotypic B cells and validated it in two independent monoclonal B cell systems. Using this method, we found clonotypic B cells in only one out of 15 myeloma patients. In view of the assay's validated sensitivity level of 10-3, this surprising data suggests that the abundance of such cells has been vastly overestimated in the past and that they apparently represent a very rare population in myeloma. Our novel tracing approach may open perspectives to isolate and analyze clonotypic B cells and determine their role in myeloma pathobiology.