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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1992 Apr 1;89(7):2694-8.

Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction for the rearranged retinoic acid receptor alpha clarifies diagnosis and detects minimal residual disease in acute promyelocytic leukemia.

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  • 1Laboratory of Molecular Medicine, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY 10021.


The characteristic t(15;17) of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) fuses the retinoic acid receptor alpha (RAR-alpha) gene on chromosome 17 to a gene on chromosome 15 called PML, a putative transcription factor. This distinct translocation results in a fusion mRNA detected by Northern analysis. Two cDNAs have been isolated that differ in the extent of 3' PML nucleic acid sequence contained. This study describes a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay for the PML/RAR-alpha fusion transcript, which amplifies PML/RAR-alpha mRNA from APL cells with either reported breakpoint. DNA sequencing of the predominant RT-PCR products from 6 patients showed identical RAR-alpha exonic breakpoints and two PML breakpoints. This RT-PCR assay was positive in leukemic cells from 30/30 APL patients with the molecular rearrangement confirmed by cytogenetics or Northern analysis. In leukemic cells of patients with a morphologic diagnosis of APL lacking the t(15;17) by routine cytogenetics, a positive RT-PCR assay predicted clinical response to all-trans-retinoic acid (RA) therapy. Dilutional studies with leukemic cells that express (NB4) or do not express (HL-60) a PML/RAR-alpha fusion mRNA reveal that this RT-PCR assay detects the transcript from as little as 50 pg of total RNA. In APL cells from 5/6 patients treated with RA alone, a complete response by clinical and cytogenetic criteria accompanied a persistently positive RT-PCR assay. This preceded relapse by 1-6 months. RT-PCR for PML/RAR-alpha mRNA provides a more-sensitive test for the t(15;17) than routine cytogenetics or Northern analysis. This molecular rearrangement detected by RT-PCR best defines this RA-responsive malignancy. The RT-PCR assay for the PML/RAR-alpha transcript yields important diagnostic and prognostic information in the management of APL patients.

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