Acute myeloid leukemia carrying cytoplasmic/mutated nucleophosmin (NPMc+ AML): biologic and clinical features

Brunangelo Falini, Ildo Nicoletti, Massimo F. Martelli and Cristina Mecucci


The nucleophosmin (NPM1) gene encodes for a multifunctional nucleocytoplasmic shuttling protein that is localized mainly in the nucleolus. NPM1 mutations occur in 50% to 60% of adult acute myeloid leukemia with normal karyotype (AML-NK) and generate NPM mutants that localize aberrantly in the leukemic-cell cytoplasm, hence the term NPM-cytoplasmic positive (NPMc+ AML). Cytoplasmic NPM accumulation is caused by the concerted action of 2 alterations at mutant C-terminus, that is, changes of tryptophan(s) 288 and 290 (or only 290) and creation of an additional nuclear export signal (NES) motif. NPMc+ AML shows increased frequency in adults and females, wide morphologic spectrum, multilineage involvement, high frequency of FLT3-ITD, CD34 negativity, and a distinct gene-expression profile. Analysis of mutated NPM has important clinical and pathologic applications. Immunohistochemical detection of cytoplasmic NPM predicts NPM1 mutations and helps rationalize cytogenetic/molecular studies in AML. NPM1 mutations in absence of FLT3-ITD identify a prognostically favorable subgroup in the heterogeneous AML-NK category. Due to their frequency and stability, NPM1 mutations may become a new tool for monitoring minimal residual disease in AML-NK. Future studies should focus on clarifying how NPM mutants promote leukemia, integrating NPMc+ AML in the upcoming World Health Organization leukemia classification, and eventually developing specific antileukemic drugs.

  • Submitted July 10, 2006.
  • Accepted September 11, 2006.
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