Monitoring chronic lymphocytic leukemia progression by whole genome sequencing reveals heterogeneous clonal evolution patterns

Anna Schuh, Jennifer Becq, Sean Humphray, Adrian Alexa, Adam Burns, Ruth Clifford, Stephan M. Feller, Russell Grocock, Shirley Henderson, Irina Khrebtukova, Zoya Kingsbury, Shujun Luo, David McBride, Lisa Murray, Toshi Menju, Adele Timbs, Mark Ross, Jenny Taylor and David Bentley


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is characterized by relapse after treatment and chemotherapy resistance. Similarly, in other malignancies leukemia cells accumulate mutations during growth, forming heterogeneous cell populations that are subject to Darwinian selection and may respond differentially to treatment. There is therefore a clinical need to monitor changes in the subclonal composition of cancers during disease progression. Here, we use whole-genome sequencing to track subclonal heterogeneity in 3 chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients subjected to repeated cycles of therapy. We reveal different somatic mutation profiles in each patient and use these to establish probable hierarchical patterns of subclonal evolution, to identify subclones that decline or expand over time, and to detect founder mutations. We show that clonal evolution patterns are heterogeneous in individual patients. We conclude that genome sequencing is a powerful and sensitive approach to monitor disease progression repeatedly at the molecular level. If applied to future clinical trials, this approach might eventually influence treatment strategies as a tool to individualize and direct cancer treatment.

  • Submitted May 30, 2012.
  • Accepted August 5, 2012.
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