The clinical course of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is heterogeneous with some patients requiring early therapy whereas others will not be treated for years. The evaluation of an individual CLL patient's prognosis remains a problematic issue. The presence or absence of somatic mutations in the IgVH genes is currently the gold-standard prognostic factor, but this technique is labor intensive and costly. Genomic studies uncovered that 70 kDa zeta-associated protein (ZAP-70) expression was associated with unmutated IgVH genes and ZAP-70 protein expression was proposed as a surrogate for somatic mutational status. Among the available techniques for ZAP-70 detection, flow cytometry is most preferable as if allows the simultaneous quantification of ZAP-70 protein expression levels in CLL cells and residual normal lymphocyte subsets. However, several factors introduce variability in the results reported from different laboratories; these factors include the anti-ZAP-70 antibody clone and conjugate, the staining procedure, the gating strategy, and the method of reporting the results. The need for standardization of the approach led to the organization of an international working group focused on harmonizing all aspects of the technique. During this workshop, a technical consensus was reached on the methods for cell permeabilization and immunophenotyping procedures. An assay was then designed that allowed comparison of two clones of anti-ZAP-70 antibody and the identification of the expression of this molecule in B, T, and NK cells identified in a four multicolor analysis. This procedure was applied to three stabilized blood samples, provided by the UK NEQAS group to all participating members of this study, in order to minimize variability caused by sample storage and shipment. Analysis was performed in 20 laboratories providing interpretable data from 14 centers. Various gating strategies were used and the ZAP-70 levels were expressed as percentage positive (POS) relative to isotype control or normal B-cells or normal T-cells; in addition the levels were reported as a ratio of expression in CLL cells relative to T-cells. The reported level of ZAP-70 expression varied greatly depending on the antibody and the method used to express the results. The CLL/T-cell ZAP-70 expression ratio showed a much lower interlaboratory variation than other reporting strategies and is recommended for multicenter studies. Stabilization results in decreased expression of CD19 making gating more difficult and therefore stabilized samples are not optimal for multicentric analysis of ZAP-70 expression. We assessed the variation of ZAP-70 expression levels in fresh cells according to storage time, which demonstrated that ZAP-70 is labile but sufficiently stable to allow comparison using fresh samples distributed between labs in Europe. These studies have demonstrated progress toward a consensus reporting procedure, and further work is underway to harmonize the preparation and analysis procedures.

CLL, Flow cytometry, Harmonization, ZAP-70,
Cytometry Part B - Clinical Cytometry

Letestu, R, Kroeber, A, Langerak, A.W, Le Garff-Tavernier, M, Mockridge, I, Morilla, A, … Ibbotson, R. (2006). Evaluation of ZAP-70 expression by flow cytometry in chronic lymphocytic leukemia: A multicentric international harmonization process. Cytometry Part B - Clinical Cytometry, 70(4), 309–314. doi:10.1002/cyto.b.20132