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PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e23022. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023022. Epub 2011 Aug 9.

Chronic myeloid leukemia patients in prolonged remission following interferon-α monotherapy have distinct cytokine and oligoclonal lymphocyte profile.

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Hematology Research Unit, Biomedicum Helsinki, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland.


Before the era of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), interferon-alpha (IFN-α) was the treatment of choice in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). Curiously, some IFN-α treated patients were able to discontinue therapy without disease progression. The aim of this project was to study the immunomodulatory effects of IFN-α in CML patients in prolonged remission and isolate biological markers predicting response. Due to rarity of patients on IFN-α monotherapy, a relatively small cohort of patients still on treatment (IFN-ON, n = 10, median therapy duration 11.8 years) or had discontinued IFN-α therapy but remained in remission for >2 years (IFN-OFF, n = 9) were studied. The lymphocyte immunophenotype was analyzed with a comprehensive flow cytometry panel and plasma cytokine levels were measured with multiplex bead-based assay. In addition, the clonality status of different lymphocyte subpopulations was analyzed by TCR γ/δ rearrangement assay. Median NK-cell absolute number and proportion from lymphocytes in blood was higher in IFN-OFF patients as compared to IFN-ON patients or controls (0.42, 0.19, 0.21×10(9)/L; 26%, 12%, 11%, respectively, p<0.001). The proportion of CD8+ T-cells was significantly increased in both patient groups and a larger proportion of T-cells expressed CD45RO. Most (95%) patients had significant numbers of oligoclonal lymphocytes characterized by T-cell receptor γ/δ rearrangements. Strikingly, in the majority of patients (79%) a distinct clonal Vγ9 gene rearrangement was observed residing in γδ(+) T-cell population. Similar unique clonality pattern was not observed in TKI treated CML patients. Plasma eotaxin and MCP-1 cytokines were significantly increased in IFN-OFF patients. Despite the limited number of patients, our data indicates that IFN-α treated CML patients in remission have increased numbers of NK-cells and clonal γδ(+) T-cells and a unique plasma cytokine profile. These factors may relate to anti-leukemic effects of IFN-α in this specific group of patients and account for prolonged therapy responses even after drug discontinuation.

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