Key Points

  • NT5C2 mutations were present in 16% of B-cell precursor ALL relapses and were clonal in one third and subclonal in two-thirds of cases.

  • Subclonal NT5C2 mutations independently predicted inferior outcome after relapse, although they were rapidly eradicated by relapse therapy.

Activating mutations in the cytosolic 5´-nucleotidase II (NT5C2) are considered to drive relapse formation in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) by conferring purine analogue resistance. To examine the clinical effects of NT5C2 mutations in relapsed ALL, we analyzed NT5C2 in 455 relapsed B-cell precursor ALL patients treated within the ALL-REZ BFM 2002 relapse trial using sequencing and sensitive allele-specific real-time PCR. We detected 110 NT5C2 mutations in 75 (16.5%) of 455 B-cell precursor ALL relapses. Two-thirds of relapses harboured subclonal and only one third clonal mutations. Event-free survival after relapse was inferior in patients with relapses with clonal and subclonal NT5C2 mutations compared to those without (19% and 25% vs 53%, p<0.001). However, subclonal, but not clonal NT5C2 mutations were associated with reduced event-free survival in multivariable analysis (HR 1.89 [95% CI 1.28-2.69], p=0.001) and with an increased rate of nonresponse to relapse treatment (subclonal 32%, clonal 12%, wild type 9%, p<0.001). Nevertheless, 27 (82%) of 33 subclonal NT5C2 mutations became undetectable at the time of nonresponse or second relapse, and in 10 (71%) of 14 patients subclonal NT5C2 mutations were undetectable already after relapse induction treatment. These results show that subclonal NT5C2 mutations define relapses associated with high risk of treatment failure in patients and at the same time emphasize that their role in outcome is complex and goes beyond mutant NT5C2 acting as a targetable driver during relapse progression. Sensitive, prospective identification of NT5C2 mutations is warranted to improve the understanding and treatment of this aggressive ALL relapse subtype.

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