What causes cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL)?

Updated: Aug 15, 2018
  • Author: Lauren C Pinter-Brown, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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The primary etiologic mechanisms for the development of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (eg, mycosis fungoides) have not been elucidated. Mycosis fungoides may be preceded by a T-cell–mediated chronic inflammatory skin disease, which may occasionally progress to a fatal lymphoma. Karyotypic analysis of cutaneous and blood lymphocytes has shown several genetically aberrant T-cell clones in the same patient.

A genotraumatic T cell is one with a tendency to develop numerous clonal chromosomal aberrations. Normal T lymphocytes show apoptosis during in vitro culturing, whereas genotraumatic ones have the ability to develop clonal chromosomal aberrations to become immortalized. This concept implies genetic instability followed by T-cell proliferation. Successive cell divisions of a genotraumatic T-cell clone may produce multiple and complex chromosomal aberrations. Some may reprogram the genotraumatic cells to apoptosis, whereas 1 or more may produce the phenotypic alterations of malignancy if not eliminated in vivo.

Thus, one hypothesis is that the development of genotraumatic T lymphocytes is involved in the etiopathogenesis and the progression of mycosis fungoides. It would also predict that each patient would likely have a unique malignant clone, which, in fact, has been found to be the case.

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