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Haematologica. 2011 Mar;96(3):360-6. doi: 10.3324/haematol.2010.030999. Epub 2010 Dec 6.

Dynamics of mutant BCR-ABL-positive clones after cessation of tyrosine kinase inhibitor therapy.

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III. Medizinische Klinik, Universitätsmedizin Mannheim, Universität Heidelberg, Mannheim, Germany.



Point mutations of the BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase domain are considered the predominant cause of imatinib resistance in chronic myeloid leukemia. The expansion of mutant BCR-ABL-positive clones under selective pressure of tyrosine kinase inhibition is referred to as clonal selection; there are few data on the reversibility of this phenomenon.


The changes of expression of mutant BCR-ABL-positive alleles after cessation of tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment were examined in 19 patients with chronic myeloid leukemia harboring different mutations in a longitudinal follow-up. The proportion of mutant alleles was quantified by amplification of rearranged ABL sequences followed by mutation-specific restriction digestion, electrophoresis and densitometry. The size of mutant clones was established as a measure of the absolute amount of mutant cells considering the proportion of mutant BCR-ABL transcripts and the total level of BCR-ABL obtained by quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction.


The median proportion of mutant transcripts was 97% before and 8% after cessation of tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment indicating a relative decline of 88% within a median of 6 months. The relative decrease in the size of the mutant clones was 86%. Repeated selection and deselection of the mutant clone after resumption and second cessation of tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment was observed in individual patients.


Deselection of mutant BCR-ABL-positive clones after cessation of tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment might be a common, rapid and reproducible phenomenon, although some patients harboring the T315I mutation showed no deselection. Cessation of tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment may lead to the regression of T315I mutant clones to a level under the limit of detection, offering the therapeutic option of resumed tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment under close surveillance of the mutation status.

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