Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in children is a paradigm of disseminated cancer that is curable with chemotherapy, yet current treatment fails to cure about 20% of patients, for reasons that remain unknown. In a genome-wide assessment of in vivo treatment-induced changes in gene expression in ALL cells using the Affymetrix U95A and U133A oligonucleotide microarray, we found that patients who eventually relapsed did not up-regulate expression of the pro-apoptotic beta-2 adrenergic receptor gene (ADRB2) in their ALL cells after initial treatment with methotrexate and mercaptopurine. After treatment we observed a 5-fold lower level of ADRB2 gene expression in leukemia cells of patients who ultimately relapsed. We found a common genetic polymorphism in the ADRB2 promoter that was significantly linked to high-dose methotrexate induced up-regulation in ADRB2 gene expression in ALL cells. Moreover, the ADRB2 promoter haplotype was significantly linked to poor early treatment response in ALL cells from 242 children (i.e., probability of event-free survival at two years, p=0.0275 stratified by risk groups). These findings have revealed a germline polymorphism that is linked to the early antileukemic effects of ALL chemotherapy and provide new insights into genetic determinants of ALL treatment efficacy.

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