Hydroxyurea (HU) is an effective therapeutic agent for patients with myeloproliferative disorders (MPDs) or sickle cell disease (SCD). Short-term HU toxicities primarily include transient myelosuppression, but long-term HU risks have not been defined. The mutagenic and carcinogenic potential of HU is not established, although HU has been associated with an increased risk of leukemia in some patients with MPD. In this study, 2 assays were used to quantitate acquired somatic DNA mutations in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) after in vivo HU exposure. The HPRT assay measures hypoxanthine phosphoribosyl transferase (hprt) mutations, while the VDJ assay identifies “illegitimate” T-cell receptor Vγ-Jβ interlocus recombination events. PBMCs were analyzed from patients with MPD, adults and children with SCD, and normal controls. MPD patients with prolonged HU exposure had numbers of DNA mutations equivalent to patients with low HU exposure or controls. Similarly, adults with SCD had equivalent numbers of DNA mutations regardless of HU exposure. Children with SCD and 30-month HU exposure had equivalenthprt mutations but significantly more VDJ mutations (1.82 ± 1.20 events per μg DNA) than children with 7-month HU exposure (1.58 ± 0.87 events) or no HU exposure (1.06 ± 0.45 events), P = .04 by analysis of variance. Taken together, these data suggest that the mutagenic and carcinogenic potential of in vivo HU therapy is low. Although increased numbers of illegitimate VDJ recombination events do not directly portend leukemia, young patients with SCD and HU exposure should be monitored serially for increases in DNA mutations.

  • Submitted September 7, 1999.
  • Accepted January 26, 2000.
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