Theses Doctoral

The Major Histocompatibility Complex Class I in the Pathogenesis of B-Cell Lymphomas

Gomez, Karen

Immune evasion is an emerging hallmark of cancer. Dysregulation of the major histocompatibility complex class I (MHC-I) is a frequent mechanism of immune evasion utilized by tumor cells and is particularly relevant to the pathogenesis of B-cell lymphomas, including diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) and classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL). A better understanding of MHC-I dysregulation in B-cell lymphomas is necessary to identify factors related to the risk, development, and progression of these tumors.

In this thesis, we investigate the role of MHC-I dysregulation in DLBCL and cHL through the application of computational approaches to study genomic data. First, we introduce some background information about the normal function of MHC-I in the immune response to cancer and viral infection as well as the phenomenon of MHC-I dysregulation in the context of cancer. We provide an overview of how factors such as germline zygosity of HLA class I (HLA-I) genes and somatic alterations in the genes B2M and HLA-I that encode the protein subunits of MHC-I contribute to the development of DLBCL and cHL.

Second, we present a study of the effects of HLA-I allele zygosity on survival in a cohort of 519 DLBCL patients treated with R-CHOP immunochemotherapy stratified by molecular subtype. Homozygosity in HLA-I was associated with a worse overall survival in patients whose tumors were classified in the “EZB” subtype, associated with somatic mutation in the epigenetic regulator EZH2. We find an association between the zygosity of the genes HLA-B and -C specifically and overall survival in EZB-DLBCL. These findings indicate that HLA-I zygosity may be a risk factor for worse clinical prognosis in patients with the EZB subtype of DLBCL.

Third, we present a study of the genetic landscape of cHL tumors that are associated with infection with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). We analyze inherited HLA-I allele types, somatic mutations, copy number changes, and mutational signatures in a cohort of 57 cHL patients (15 EBV-positive). We find that EBV-positive cHL is genetically distinct from EBV-negative cHL and is characterized by lower somatic mutation load and different activities of mutation signatures. Further, we find that cHL tumors are characterized by different patterns of MHC-I dysregulation depending on the EBV infection status. Germline homozygosity in HLA-I was associated with the EBV-positive subtype of cHL, while somatic alterations in HLA-I were associated with the EBV-negative subtype of cHL. These results suggest that inherited HLA-I homozygosity may be a risk factor for the EBV-positive subtype of cHL.

Fourth, we expand our study of HLA-I in virus-associated cHL to perform a comparative analysis of virus-positive and virus-negative tumors in nine cancers linked to five viruses. We find that virus-positive tumors occur more frequently in males and show geographical disparities in incidence. Genomic analysis of 1,658 tumors reveals virus-positive tumors exhibit distinct mutation signatures, recurrent mutations in the RNA helicases DDX3X and EIF4A1, and a lower somatic mutation burden compared to virus-negative tumors of the same cancer type. We find that germline homozygosity in HLA-I is a potential risk factor for the development of EBV-positive cHL, but not other common virus-associated solid or hematological malignancies.

Finally, we present in the Appendix a study of the genomic characterization of plasmablastic lymphoma (PBL), a rare EBV-associated B-cell lymphoma that occurs in the context of immunodeficiency caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. We find that PBL is characterized by mutations leading to constitutive activation of the JAK-STAT pathway. We additionally identify recurrent mutations in immune-related genes, such as B2M. These findings indicate a potential role for MHC-I and immune dysregulation in the pathogenesis of other B-cell lymphomas.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Studies
Thesis Advisors
Rabadan, Raul
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 25, 2023