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Leukemia. 1992;6 Suppl 1:47-59.

Detection of minimal residual disease in acute leukemia by immunological marker analysis and polymerase chain reaction.

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  • 1Department of Immunology, University Hospital, Dijkzigt/Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


Detection of minimal residual disease (MRD) can be useful for adaptation or stratification of treatment in acute leukemia patients and may finally result in individualization of treatment protocols. Although leukemic cells generally have immunophenotypes comparable to their normal counterparts, it is possible to use immunological marker analysis for the detection of MRD based on the assumption that the presence of positive cells outside their normal breeding sites and 'homing areas' is indicative of malignancy. This approach can be used for the detection of MRD in blood and bone marrow of patients with a terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT) positive T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and patients with a TdT+ acute myeloid leukemia (AML) as well as in cerebrospinal fluid of patients with a TdT+ leukemia. In other types of acute leukemias, immunological marker analysis generally does not allow detection of low frequencies of malignant cells, but in a part of them the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique may be valuable. The PCR technique allows the amplification of tumor-specific DNA sequences or mRNA sequences (after reverse transcription into cDNA), if the flanking sequences are well-defined. This PCR-mediated amplification can detect specific sequences which are derived from only a few malignant cells between many normal cells. Well-defined chromosome translocations have been used as tumor-specific markers, such as t(9;22). An advantage of using specific chromosome aberrations as tumor-specific markers is their stability during the disease course. However, only 10-15% of ALL and 25-30% of AML have a specific chromosome translocation and in a large part of them the precise breakpoints are not (yet) known. Recent studies indicate that it is possible to detect MRD in acute leukemias by use of PCR-mediated amplification of the junctional regions of rearranged immunoglobulin (Ig) and T-cell receptor (TcR) genes, using variable (V) and joining (J) gene-specific oligonucleotides as primers. Major pitfalls of this application are the occurrence of multiple rearrangements at diagnosis (oligoclonality) and changes in rearrangement patterns at relapse (clonal evolution), which will lead to false negative results of this MRD-PCR technique. In conclusion, the technique of choice for the detection of MRD is dependent on the immunophenotype of the leukemia, the presence of a well-defined chromosome translocation and the presence of a rearranged Ig and/or TcR gene as well as the chance of immunophenotypic shifts and changes in Ig and TcR gene rearrangement patterns.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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