One of the distinguishing features of multiple myeloma (MM) is the proliferation of a clonal plasma cell population in the bone marrow (BM). It is of particular interest that the tumor plasma cells appear to be restricted to the microenvironment of the BM and are rarely detected in the peripheral system, yet the disease is found widely disseminated throughout the axial skeleton. Furthermore, isolation of MM tumor cell lines has proven to be quite problematic due to their slow growth rate. These observations have instigated the search for earlier cells in the B cell lineage that are clonally related to the plasma cell tumor and that may represent the growth fraction of the tumor. We used allele-specific oligonucleotides (ASO) derived from the third complementarity determining region of the rearranged tumor immunoglobulin heavy chain gene to detect isotypes clonally related to the plasma cell tumor. By reverse transcribing RNA from the BM with a panel of CH primers (mu, delta, alpha, and gamma), followed by ASO-polymerase chain reaction amplification, we demonstrate the existence of preswitch isotype species that are clonally related to the myeloma tumor. Furthermore, we show that separation of the BM cells into CD45+ and CD38+ cell populations results in a lineage-specific expression of the clonally related RNA molecules, with the C mu and C delta in the CD45+, and C gamma in the CD38+ population. Interestingly, clonally related C alpha transcripts are also derived from the CD45+ fraction. These results confirm the presence of B cell populations clonally related to the plasma cell tumor and are consistent with models that propose the existence of myeloma precursors.

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