High-risk subtypes of chronic lymphocytic leukemia are detectable as early as 16 years prior to diagnosis.

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Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is preceded by monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis (MBL), a CLL precursor state with a prevalence of up to 12% in aged individuals; however, the duration of MBL and the mechanisms of its evolution to CLL remain largely unknown. In this study, we sequenced the B-cell receptor (BcR) immunoglobulin heavy chain (IGH) gene repertoire of 124 patients with CLL and 118 matched controls in blood samples taken up to 22 years prior to diagnosis. Significant skewing in the BcR IGH gene repertoire was detected in the majority of patients, even before the occurrence of lymphocytosis and irrespective of the clonotypic IGH variable gene somatic hypermutation status. Furthermore, we identified dominant clonotypes belonging to major stereotyped subsets associated with poor prognosis up to 16 years before diagnosis in 14 patients with CLL. In 22 patients with longitudinal samples, the skewing of the BcR IGH gene repertoire increased significantly over time to diagnosis or remained stable at high levels. For 14 of 16 patients with available samples at diagnosis, the CLL clonotype was already present in the prediagnostic samples. Overall, our data indicate that the preclinical phase of CLL could be longer than previously thought, even in adverse-prognostic cases.
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