Richter syndrome (RS), an aggressive lymphoma that develops in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), is a striking example of histologic transformation. While recent therapeutic advances have transformed the treatment landscape of CLL and lymphoma, RS remains associated with dismal overall survival. Despite an advanced genomic and molecular characterization of CLL over the past decade, the current understanding of the genetic factors driving evolution of CLL to RS is limited. To decipher the genetics underlying this transformation, we have performed an integrative analysis of exome, genome and transcriptome data generated from matched RS and CLL samples from a discovery cohort of 53 patients with newly diagnosed RS of DLBCL histology. Through computational deconvolution of CLL and RS clones, we constructed phylogenetic relationships and traced evolution of CLL to RS, confirming both clonal related (87%) and unrelated cases (13%). In addition to identifying recognized RS-risk genetic lesions, we discovered novel RS-specific alterations, including 5 putative somatic driver genes (IRF2BP2, SRSF1, B2M, DNMT3A and EZH2), frequent copy number alterations beyond del(9p21)(CDKN2A/B), (including amp(7q21.2) (CDK6), amp(9p24) (PDL1/L2), and amp(1q23)(MCL1)), and recurrent whole genome duplication and chromothripsis. Integration of exome and genome sequencing data led to the identification of distinct molecular subtypes of RS with prognostic importance. To confirm these molecular subtypes, a validation cohort of 47 RS cases has been assembled with paired exome and transcriptome data. To further investigate the stepwise clonal evolution of CLL to RS, we performed single-cell RNA-sequencing on biopsy samples obtained at diagnosis from 5 individuals with clonally related transformation. Using a novel tool, CNVSingle, we inferred allele specific single-cell copy number alterations that enabled identification of the single-cell clusters representing distinct CLL and RS genetic subclones as well as intermediate, or transitional, evolutionary states. RS cells displayed gene expression enriched in pathways of MYC targets and cell cycle, in line with similar analysis on bulk transcriptomes. Finally, by ultra-low pass (ULP)-WGS sequencing of plasma samples from RS patients, we demonstrate detection of RS tumor DNA in plasma months prior to initial clinical diagnosis (n=3 of 6) or post-allogeneic stem cell transplant relapse (n=2 of 2). cfDNA is thus a promising tool for early detection of emerging RS and RS relapse as well as for non-invasive detection surrounding diagnosis. Altogether, our study defines RS-specific alterations and provides a molecular definition of RS, identifies distinct genetic subtypes of RS with prognostic significance, traces the evolutionary path to RS and suggests future strategies for improved detection.

Citation Format: Erin M Parry, Ignaty Leshchiner, Romain Guieze, Connor Johnson, Eugen Tausch, Sameer A Parikh, Camilla K Lemvigh, Conor Messer, Filippo Utro, Chaya Levovitz, Kahn Rhrissorrakrai, Matthew S Davids, Julien Broseus, Shuqiang Li, Ziao Lin, Binyamin A Knisbacher, Christof Schneider, Laura Z Rassenti, Thomas J Kipps, Nitin Jain, William Wierda, Florence Cymbalista, Neil E Kay, Kenneth J Livak, Brian P Danysh, Chip Stewart, Donna Neuberg, Jennifer R Brown, Laxmi Paridi, Stephan Stilgenbauer, Gaddy Getz, Catherine Wu. Evolutionary history of transformation from chronic lymphocytic leukemia to Richter syndrome [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the Third AACR International Meeting: Advances in Malignant Lymphoma: Maximizing the Basic-Translational Interface for Clinical Application; 2022 Jun 23-26; Boston, MA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Blood Cancer Discov 2022;3(5_Suppl):Abstract nr A13.