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J Clin Oncol. 1995 Jul;13(7):1704-13.

Distinct patterns of minimal residual disease associated with graft-versus-host disease after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation for chronic myelogenous leukemia.

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Division of Hematologic Malignancies, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston MA 02115, USA.



Allogeneic bone marrow transplantation (BMT) has been shown to provide effective therapy for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), but previous reports have also demonstrated the persistence of bcr-abl-positive cells for months to years after BMT in the majority of patients. To evaluate the biologic significance of persistent bcr-abl-positive cells, we examined the relationship between clinical parameters known to affect the risk of relapse and the ability to detect bcr-abl-positive cells post-BMT.


We analyzed 480 samples from 92 patients at two transplant centers for the presence of bcr-abl-positive cells by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Two different BMT preparative regimens and protocols for prevention of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) were used. One center used cyclophosphamide plus total-body irradiation (CY/TBI) and T-cell-depleted marrow; the second center used busulfan plus cyclophosphamide (Bu/CY) and untreated marrow with cyclosporine and methotrexate (Csp/MTX) as GVHD prophylaxis.


We first determined the percent of patients at each center with > or = one PCR-positive (PCR+) result at defined intervals post-BMT. Between 0 and 6 months post-BMT, the majority of patients (80% to 83%) in both populations had PCR-detectable bcr-abl-positive cells. Between 6 and 24 months post-BMT, 80% to 88% of patients who received T-cell-depleted marrow remained PCR+, as compared with 26% to 30% of patients who received unmodified marrow. After 24 months post-BMT, the percentage of PCR+ patients was not significantly different in the two populations. This pattern of detection of bcr-abl-positive cells post-BMT followed the development of chronic GVHD in patients who received unmodified marrow. All patients were also divided into three groups based on post-BMT PCR results as follows: (1) persistent PCR+ (n = 29), (2) intermittent PCR-negative ([PCR-] n = 40), and (3) persistent PCR- (n = 23). These three groups were found to have a low, intermediate, and high probability of maintaining remission and disease-free survival, respectively (P = .0001). Intermittent or persistent PCR- results, which reflect levels of minimal residual disease < or = the limit of detection by PCR, were clearly associated with both acute (P = .004) and chronic (P = .000005) GVHD. Nevertheless, 44% of patients without GVHD also had intermittent or persistent PCR- assays.


The persistence of PCR-detectable bcr-abl-positive cells early post-BMT in more than 80% of patients suggests that neither BMT preparative regimen effectively eradicates CML cells in most patients. Subsequently, acute and/or chronic GVHD are associated with a decreased ability to detect residual bcr-abl-positive cells, which suggests that immunologic mechanisms mediated by donor cells are important for inducing long-term remissions after BMT. The demonstration that 44% of patients without GVHD had either low or undetectable levels of residual leukemia suggests the presence of mechanisms capable of suppression or eradication of CML independent of GVHD.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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