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Abstract

The Philadelphia (Ph1) chromosome, or its molecular counterpart, the BCR-ABL fusion gene, is a rare but important prognostic indicator in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), but its impact on adult ALL has not been well ascertained. A prospective study of the BCR-ABL fusion gene was begun on patients entered on clinical trials conducted by the Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB). All patients received intensive, multiagent chemotherapy that included daunorubicin. Over 2 years, 56 patients were studied for molecular evidence of a BCR-ABL gene using Southern blot and pulsed-field gel hybridization analysis. Results were compared with cytogenetic detection of a Ph1 chromosome, and clinical features were compared for the BCR-ABL-positive and - negative groups. Molecular methods detected the BCR-ABL gene in 30% of cases compared with cytogenetic detection of the Ph1 chromosome in only 23%. The majority of cases (76%) showed the p190 gene subtype similar to pediatric ALL; the BCR-ABL-positive cases displayed a more homogeneous immunophenotype than the BCR-ABL-negative cases and were predominantly CALLA positive (86%) and B-cell surface antigen positive (82%). The rate of achieving complete remission was similar in the BCR- ABL-positive and -negative groups (71% and 77%, respectively, P = .72). There were more early relapses in the BCR-ABL-positive group, resulting in a shorter remission duration that was especially marked in the CALLA- positive and B-cell antigen-positive populations. These preliminary data suggest that the impact of the BCR-ABL gene on clinical outcome in ALL may be on maintenance of complete remission (CR) rather than achievement of CR when aggressive, multiagent chemotherapy is used. This study identifies the BCR-ABL gene as an important factor in adult ALL and demonstrates the utility of molecular methods for its accurate diagnosis.