Classification of cytotoxic T-cell and natural killer cell lymphomas

Elaine S. Jaffe, Laszlo Krenacs, Mark Raffeld

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102 Citations (Scopus)


Mature or peripheral T-cell lymphomas are uncommon, accounting for only 10% to 15% of all non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. The classification of these neoplasms has been controversial. In contrast to B-cell lymphomas, cytologic features have not been useful in defining disease entities, and cytologic grade has not helped predict the clinical course. Similarly, many entities of T-cell or natural killer (NK) cell derivation do not have a specific immunophenotype. Clinical features are of major importance in defining T-cell and NK cell neoplasms, and in some cases the clinical syndrome, may be more important than the precise cell of origin. The majority of cytotoxic T-cell and NK cell lymphomas arise in extranodal sites. The expression of cytotoxic molecules in these lymphomas may predispose to apoptosis by tumor cells and normal bystander cells. Three major categories of extranodal T/NK cell tumors are recognized in the World Health Organization (WHO) classification: extranodal NK/T, nasal-type; enteropathy-type; and subcutaneous panniculitis-like. Epstein Barr virus (EBV) is closely linked to nasal NK/T-cell lymphoma, but shows geographic and racial variations in other subtypes. Tumors resembling the prototype of nasal NK/T-cell lymphoma occur in a variety of extranodal sites, and are referred to as nasal-type. Hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma is a more systemic disease derived from functionally immature cytotoxic cells, usually γδ T-cell origin. Cytotoxic T-cell lymphomas of mature γδ T-cell origin most often arise in mucocutaneous sites, and may resemble the prototypes of extranodal T/NK cell lymphoma: nasal, enteropathy-associated, and panniculitis-like. Cytotoxic T/NK cell lymphomas occur with increased frequency in the setting of immune suppression, especially following organ transplantation. The nodal T-cell lymphoma most often exhibiting a cytotoxic immunophenotype is anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL). Primary cutaneous ALCL frequently but not invariably expresses cytotoxic molecules. While the majority of extranodal neoplasms are derived from innate immune effector cells of NK cell and T-cell origin (γδ greater than αβ), most nodal cytotoxic T-cell lymphomas probably belong to the adaptive immune system. Studies of these neoplasms may assist in unraveling the diversity of their normal counterparts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-184
Number of pages10
JournalSeminars in Hematology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2003


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology

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