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Haematologica. Dec 2009; 94(12): 1778–1780.
PMCID: PMC2791943

What is the optimal treatment for biphenotypic acute leukemia?

We read with great interest the paper written by Xu et al.1 about a comprehensive investigation in clinical and biological characteristics of adult biphenotypic acute leukemia (BAL) in China. We agree that the prognosis of BAL patients is poor when compared with de novo acute myeloid leukemia (AML) or acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), and BAL patients showed a much higher incidence of CD34 antigen expression, complex abnormal karyotype, and extramedullary infiltration. Nevertheless, we would like to focus on the particular clinical situation of BAL about the chemotherapeutic considerations. We continue to ask ourselves, what is the optimal treatment for BAL ¿

Carefully reading through the article, we found that 16 of 21 BAL patients were treated by ALL induction protocol (DVP, CDVP, CDVLP) or ALL-based induction protocol (VPDA, VPHA), of which 14 obtained complete remission (CR) (87.5%, 14/16). Also with the above treatment approaches, 3 patients still survived with persistent CR. Otherwise, 5 patients received induction chemotherapy with AML protocols (DA, HA, HAE), only one patient achieved CR (20%, 1/5). From the article, we found that 18 patients died of leukemia relapse or treatment complications, at least 14 patients died of chemotherapeutic complications including fatal infections (57.1%, 8/14) and hemorrhagic complications (42.9%, 6/14). Eleven patients relapsed and were resistant to original induction therapy, but infection and hemorrhage related death were the main reasons for poor overall results. These interesting data told us that induction treatment in BAL patients with ALL or ALL-based protocol may lead to higher CR rate than treatment with AML protocol, and intensive supportive care could improve the outcome of BAL patients.

From 326 adult acute leukemia patients, including 105 ALL and 221 AML (FAB classification), presenting to our center between January 2002 and June 2007, 19 patients (5.8%) were diagnosed as BAL according to the criteria based on the previously described scoring system adopted by the European Group of Immunological Classification of Leukemia (EGIL).2 Immunophenotyping was performed by two or four-color immunofluorescence using flow cytometry, focusing on the blast cell population, and employed a panel of monoclonal antibodies to B-cell (CD10, CD19, CD20, CD22, CD79a, smIg), T-cell (CD1, CD2, CD3, CD4, CD5, CD7, CD8), myeloid (CD13, CD14, CD15, CD33, CD65, CD117, myeloperoxidase), and precursor cell (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase, CD34, HLADR) associated antigens. There were 11 female and 8 male patients with a median age of 36 years (range, 16–65). The median count for WBC was 35.6×109/L. Thirteen cases had a myeloid and B-lymphoid phenotype, and 6 cases had a myeloid and T-lymphoid phenotype.

Myeloperoxidase (MPO) activity, recognized as a very important hallmark of myeloblasts,3,4 has also been shown to have a good prognostic value in AML patients:5 a high percentage of MPO-positive blasts correlate to favorable prognosis. We designed a clinical trial to investigate the relationship between the expression of MPO in BAL blasts and the response to chemotherapeutic regimens. The study was approved by the Ethics Committee (Anhui Provincial Hospital) and all patients gave signed informed consent. The treatment schedule is shown in Figure 1. Out of 12 BAL patients at first diagnosis treated with ALL or ALL-based induction regimens such as DVLD, DVLD+Cytarabine, 75% (9/12) achieved CR. Out of 7 patients treated with AML regimens, such as DA, only 2 achieved CR (28.6%). Of note, 3 of the 5 patients (60%, 3/5) who failed to respond or had only a PR to AML therapy achieved a CR after switching to ALL-based induction therapy. With intensive supportive care, fatal infectious and hemorrhagic complications occurred only in 5 patients (26.3%, 5/19). With a median follow-up of 40 months, the median disease-free survival and overall survival were 12 and 16 months. The 3-year disease-free survival and overall survival estimates were 28.3% and 32.4%, respectively. In a recent publication, Rubnitz et al.6 reviewed the pathological and clinical features, including response to therapy, of 35 pediatric patients with mixed lineage leukemia (same as BAL) at St Jude hospital. In the subgroup of 23 patients initially given AML therapy, 12 (52%) achieved complete remission (CR) and 2 attained partial remission (PR). By contrast, of the 12 patients who first received ALL therapy, 10 (83%) achieved CR. Interestingly, 8 of the 10 patients who failed AML induction achieved CR after treatment with ALL regimens (vincristine, prednisone, and L-asparaginase). But the overall outcomes (5-year survival 36~54%) were clearly inferior to those seen for a contemporaneous sample of patients treated for standard ALL (5-year survival 84.6% in children).

Figure 1.
Treatment schedule on the BAL patients. *The MPO was considered to be positive when expressed in >20% of blasts. 1BAL: biphenotypic acute leukemia; 2EGIL: European Group for the Immunological Characterization of Leukemias; 3MPO: myeloperoxidase; ...

With a similar clinical poor prognosis to Ph+ALL,1,7 patients with BAL present with high WBC counts and expression of CD10, high extramedullary infiltration, and low rate of long-term survival. This leads us to think that BAL and Ph+ALL perhaps have the same clinical entity, and that this could be why BAL patients adapt to the treatment of ALL or ALL-based approach. We agree with the authors that multi-center cooperative studies should be carried out in both clinical and basic research to further characterize the features of BAL.

We conclude that MPO perhaps does not confer a good prognostic value in BAL patients as in AML patients. Intention-to-treat analysis showed that treatment with ALL or ALL-based approach, not AML protocol, resulted in high induction CR rates in BAL patients, but the long-term survival was still dismal.


1. Xu XQ, Wang JM, Lü SQ, Chen L, Yang JM, Zhang WP, et al. Clinical and biological characteristics of adult biphenotypic acute leukemia in comparison with that of acute myeloid leukemia and acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a case series of a Chinese population. Haematologica. 2009;94:919–27. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
2. Bene MC, Castoldi G, Knapp W, Ludwig WD, Matutes E, Orfao A, et al. Proposals for the immunological classification of acute leukemias. European Group for the Immunological Characterization of Leukemias (EGIL) Leukemia. 1995;9:1783–6. [PubMed]
3. Zaki SR, Austin GE, Swan D, Srinivasan A, Ragab AH, Chan WC, et al. Human myeloperoxidase gene expression in acute leukemia. Blood. 1989;74:2096–102. [PubMed]
4. Lubbert M, Oster W, Ludwig WD, Ganser A, Mertelsmann R, Herrmann F, et al. A switch toward demethylation is associated with the expression of myeloperoxidase in acute myeloblastic and promyelocytic leukemias. Blood. 1992;80:2066–73. [PubMed]
5. Matsuo T, Kuriyama K, Miyazaki Y, Yoshida S, Tomonaga M, Emi N, et al. The percentage of myeloperoxidase-positive blast cells is a strong independent prognostic factor in acute myeloid leukemia, even in the patients with normal karyotype. Leukemia. 2003;17:1538–43. [PubMed]
6. Rubnitz JE, Onciu M, Pounds S, Shurtleff S, Cao X, Raimondi SC, et al. Acute mixed lineage leukemia in children: the experience of St Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Blood. 2009;113:5083–9. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
7. Weir EG, Ali Ansari-Lari M, Batista DA, Griffin CA, Fuller S, Smith BD, et al. Acute bilineal leukemia: a rare disease with poor outcome. Leukemia. 2007;21:2264–70. [PubMed]

Articles from Haematologica are provided here courtesy of Ferrata Storti Foundation
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