We investigated the clinical significance of a minor population of paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH)-type blood cells in patients with acquired aplastic anemia (AA). We quantified CD55-CD59- granulocytes and red blood cells (RBCs) in peripheral blood from 122 patients with recently diagnosed AA and correlated numbers of PNH-type cells and responses to immunosuppressive therapy (IST). Flow cytometry detected 0.005% to 23.1% of GPI-AP- cells in 68% of patients with AA. Sixty-eight of 83 (91%) patients with an increased proportion of PNH-type cells (PNH+) responded to antithymocyte globulin (ATG) + cyclosporin (CsA) therapy, whereas 18 of 39 (48%) without such an increase (PNH-) responded. Failure-free survival rates were significantly higher (64%) among patients with PNH+ than patients with PNH- (12%) at 5 years, although overall survival rates were comparable between the groups. Numbers of PNH-type and normal-type cells increased in parallel among most patients with PNH+ who responded to IST, suggesting that these cells are equally sensitive to immune attack. These results indicate that a minor population of PNH-type cells represents a reliable marker of a positive IST response and a favorable prognosis among patients with AA. Furthermore, immune attack against hematopoietic stem cells that allows PNH clonal expansion might occur only at the onset of AA.

  • Submitted June 22, 2005.
  • Accepted September 14, 2005.
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