Clonal malignant T lymphocytes constitute only a fraction of T cells in mycosis fungoides skin tumors and in the leukemic blood of Sézary syndrome, the classic types of cutaneous T-cell lymphomas. However, lack of markers specific for malignant lymphocytes prevents distinguishing them from benign T cells, thus delaying diagnosis and the development of targeted treatments. Here we applied single-cell methods to assess the transcriptional profiles of both malignant T-cell clones and reactive T lymphocytes directly in mycosis fungoides/Sézary syndrome patient samples.
Single-cell RNA sequencing was used to profile the T-cell immune repertoire simultaneously with gene expression in CD3+ lymphocytes from mycosis fungoides and healthy skin biopsies as well as from Sézary syndrome and control blood samples. Transcriptional data were validated in additional advanced-stage mycosis fungoides/Sézary syndrome skin and blood samples by immunofluorescence microscopy.
Several nonoverlapping clonotypes are expanded in the skin and blood of individual advanced-stage mycosis fungoides/Sézary syndrome patient samples, including a dominant malignant clone as well as additional minor malignant and reactive clones. While we detected upregulation of patient-specific as well as mycosis fungoides– and Sézary syndrome–specific oncogenic pathways within individual malignant clones, we also detected upregulation of several common pathways that included genes associated with cancer cell metabolism, cell-cycle regulation, de novo nucleotide biosynthesis, and invasion.
Our analysis unveils new insights into mycosis fungoides/Sézary syndrome pathogenesis by providing an unprecedented report of the transcriptional profile of malignant T-cell clones in the skin and blood of individual patients and offers novel prospective targets for personalized therapy.