BACKGROUND: The distinction between Burkitt's lymphoma and diffuse large-B-cell lymphoma is crucial because these two types of lymphoma require different treatments. We examined whether gene-expression profiling could reliably distinguish Burkitt's lymphoma from diffuse large-B-cell lymphoma. METHODS: Tumor-biopsy specimens from 303 patients with aggressive lymphomas were profiled for gene expression and were also classified according to morphology, immunohistochemistry, and detection of the t(8;14) c-myc translocation. RESULTS: A classifier based on gene expression correctly identified all 25 pathologically verified cases of classic Burkitt's lymphoma. Burkitt's lymphoma was readily distinguished from diffuse large-B-cell lymphoma by the high level of expression of c-myc target genes, the expression of a subgroup of germinal-center B-cell genes, and the low level of expression of major-histocompatibility-complex class I genes and nuclear factor-.B target genes. Eight specimens with a pathological diagnosis of diffuse large-B-cell lymphoma had the typical gene-expression profile of Burkitt's lymphoma, suggesting they represent cases of Burkitt's lymphoma that are difficult to diagnose by current methods. Among 28 of the patients with a molecular diagnosis of Burkitt's lymphoma, the overall survival was superior among those who had received intensive chemotherapy regimens instead of lower-dose regimens. CONCLUSIONS: Gene-expression profiling is an accurate, quantitative method for distinguishing Burkitt's lymphoma from diffuse large-B-cell lymphoma.
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