Blood Journal
Leading the way in experimental and clinical research in hematology

Detection of bcr-abl Transcripts in Philadelphia Chromosome–Positive Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia After Marrow Transplantation

  1. Jerald Radich,
  2. Gene Gehly,
  3. Arthur Lee,
  4. Rachel Avery,
  5. Eileen Bryant,
  6. Scott Edmands,
  7. Ted Gooley,
  8. Peter Kessler,
  9. Judy Kirk,
  10. Paula Ladne,
  11. E.D. Thomas, and
  12. Frederick R. Appelbaum
  1. 1 From the Clinical Research Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA.


Thirty-six patients with Philadelphia chromosome–positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia (Ph+ ALL) were studied for the presence of the bcr-abl fusion mRNA transcript after an allogeneic matched related (N = 12), partially matched related (N = 4), matched unrelated (N = 14), autologous (N = 5), or syngeneic (N = 1) bone marrow transplant (BMT). Seventeen were transplanted in relapse, and 19 were transplanted in remission. Twenty-three patients had at least one positive bcr-abl polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay after BMT either before a relapse or without subsequent relapse. Ten of these 23 relapsed after a positive assay at a median time from first positive PCR assay of 94 days (range, 28 to 416 days). By comparison, only 2 relapses occurred in the 13 patients with no prior positive PCR assays; both patients had missed at least one scheduled follow-up assay and were not tested 2 months and 26 months before their relapse. The unadjusted relative risk (RR) of relapse associated with a positive PCR assay compared with a negative assay was 5.7 (95% confidence interval 1.2 to 26.0, P = .025). In addition, the data suggest that the type of bcr-abl chimeric mRNA detected posttransplant was associated with the risk of relapse: 7 of 10 patients expressing the p190 bcr-abl relapsed, compared with 1 of 8 who expressed only the p210 bcr-abl mRNA (P = .02, log-rank test). The RR of p190 bcr-abl positivity compared to PCR-negative patients was 11.2 (confidence interval 2.3-54.8, P = 0.003), whereas a positive test for p210 bcr-abl was apparently not associated with an increased relative risk. In separate multivariable models, PCR positivity remained a statistically significant risk factor for relapse after separately adjusting for donor (unrelated and partially matched v matched, autologous, and syngeneic), remission status at the time of transplant, the presence of acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), and type of conditioning regimen (total body irradiation dose of ≤1,200 cGy v <1,200 cGy). The PCR assay appears to be a useful test for predicting patients at high risk of relapse after BMT and may identify patients who might benefit from therapeutic interventions. The finding that the expression of p190 bcr-abl may portend an especially high risk of relapse suggests a different clinical and biologic behavior between p190 and p210 bcr-abl.

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