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Leukemia. 1999 Aug;13(8):1221-6.

Tandem application of flow cytometry and polymerase chain reaction for comprehensive detection of minimal residual disease in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

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  • 1Department of Hematology-Oncology, St Jude Children's Research Hospital, and University of Tennessee College of Medicine, Memphis 38105, USA.


Children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) with > or = 0.01% leukemic cells in the bone marrow after remission induction are at a greater risk of relapse. The most promising methods of detecting minimal residual disease (MRD) are flow cytometric identification of leukemia-associated immunophenotypes and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification of antigen-receptor genes. However, neither assay can be applied to all patients. Moreover, both assays carry the risk of false-negative findings due to clonal evolution. The simultaneous use of both assays might resolve these problems, but the correlation between the methods is unknown. We studied serial dilutions of normal and leukemic cells by flow cytometry and PCR amplification of IgH genes and found the two methods highly sensitive (one leukemic cell among 10(4) or more normal cells), accurate (r2 was 0.999 for flow cytometry and 0.960 for PCR by regression analysis) and concordant (r2 = 0.962). We then examined 62 bone marrow samples collected from children with ALL in clinical remission. In 12 samples, both techniques detected MRD levels > or = 1 in 10(4). The percentages of leukemic cells measured by the two methods correlated well (r2 = 0.978). Of the remaining 50 samples, 48 had MRD levels < 1 in 10(4). In only two samples results were discordant: 2 in 10(4) and 5 in 10(4) leukemic cells by PCR but < 1 in 10(4) by flow cytometry. We conclude that immunologic and molecular techniques can be used in tandem for universal monitoring of MRD in childhood ALL.

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