Intraclonal subpopulations of circulating chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells with different proliferative histories and reciprocal surface expression of CXCR4 and CD5 have been observed in the peripheral blood of CLL patients and named proliferative (PF), intermediate (IF), and resting (RF) cellular fractions. Here, we found that these intraclonal circulating fractions share persistent DNA methylation signatures largely associated with the mutation status of the immunoglobulin heavy chain locus (IGHV) and their origins from distinct stages of differentiation of antigen-experienced B cells. Increased leukemic birth rate, however, showed a very limited impact on DNA methylation of circulating CLL fractions independent of IGHV mutation status. Additionally, DNA methylation heterogeneity increased as leukemic cells advanced from PF to RF in the peripheral blood. This frequently co-occurred with heterochromatin hypomethylation and hypermethylation of Polycomb-repressed regions in the PF, suggesting accumulation of longevity-associated epigenetic features in recently born cells. On the other hand, transcriptional differences between paired intraclonal fractions confirmed their proliferative experience and further supported a linear advancement from PF to RF in the peripheral blood. Several of these differentially expressed genes showed unique associations with clinical outcome not evident in the bulk clone, supporting the pathological and therapeutic relevance of studying intraclonal CLL fractions. We conclude that independent methylation and transcriptional landscapes reflect both preexisting cell-of-origin fingerprints and more recently acquired hallmarks associated with the life cycle of circulating CLL cells.
ASJC Scopus subject areas