MDS-associated somatic mutations and clonal hematopoiesis are common in idiopathic cytopenias of undetermined significance

Brian Kwok, Jeff M. Hall, John S. Witte, Yin Xu, Prashanti Reddy, Keming Lin, Rachel Flamholz, Bashar Dabbas, Aine Yung, Jenan Al Hafidh, Emily Balmert, Christine Vaupel, Carlos El Hader, Matthew J. McGinniss, Shareef A. Nahas, Julie Kines and Rafael Bejar

Key points

  • Over 30% of patients with unexplained cytopenias who do not meet diagnostic criteria for MDS carry MDS-associated somatic mutations.

  • Clonal cytopenias of undetermined significance are more common than MDS and show comparable variant allele frequencies and blood counts.


Establishing a diagnosis in patients suspected of having a myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) can be challenging and could be informed by the identification of somatic mutations. We performed a prospective study to examine the frequency and types of mutations encountered in 144 patients with unexplained cytopenias. Based on bone marrow findings, 17% were diagnosed with MDS, 15% with idiopathic cytopenias of undetermined significance (ICUS) and some evidence of dysplasia, and 69% with ICUS and no dysplasia. Bone marrow DNA was sequenced for mutations in 22 frequently mutated myeloid malignancy genes. Somatic mutations were identified in 71% of MDS patients, 62% of patients with ICUS and some dysplasia, and 20% of ICUS patients and no dysplasia. In total, 35% of ICUS patients carried a somatic mutation or chromosomal abnormality indicative of clonal hematopoiesis. We validated these results in a cohort of 91 lower-risk MDS and 249 ICUS cases identified over a 6 month interval. Mutations were found in 79% with MDS, 45% in ICUS with dysplasia and 17% in ICUS without dysplasia. The spectrum of mutated genes was similar with the exception of SF3B1 which was rarely mutated in patients without dysplasia. Variant allele fractions were comparable between clonal ICUS (CCUS) and MDS as were mean age and blood counts. We demonstrate that CCUS is a more frequent diagnosis than MDS in cytopenic patients. Clinical and mutational features are similar in these groups and may have diagnostic utility once outcomes in CCUS patients are better understood.

  • Submitted August 31, 2015.
  • Accepted September 22, 2015.