Background: The measurement of monoclonal (M) protein in the serum and urine is critical for response assessment and disease evaluation in patients with multiple myeloma (MM). The serum free light chain (FLC) assay offers a new and sensitive method of assessing response to therapy. An important question that has not been adequately addressed is the correlation between 24 hour urine M protein levels and serum FLC measurements, and the extent to which response to therapy estimated using the FLC assay correlates with that assessed using the 24 hour urine M protein level.
Methods: A total of 2194 sets of data, with simultaneous UPEP and serum FLC measurement, were studied. These included 752 unique patients, with individual patients having 1–23 paired assessments over time. FLC estimation was carried out using the serum FLC assay (Freelite; The Binding Site Limited, UK) performed on a Dade-Behring Nephelometer. Based on the established reference range, kappa/lambda FLC ratio <0.26 or >1.65 were defined as abnormal indicating the presence of monoclonal lambda and kappa FLC, respectively. The monoclonal light chain isotype was considered the involved FLC isotype, and the opposite light chain type as the uninvolved FLC type. The Urine M protein by UPEP was compared to the serum levels of the involved light chain using Spearman Rank Correlation. For comparisons in individual patients over time, those with at least 10 measurements each were studied.
Results: The median involved FLC level in patients with an undetectable urine M protein was 2.3 mg/dl compared to 32.2 mg/dL among those with a detectable urine M protein (P<0.001). Among the 1676 points with an abnormal FLC ratio, only 75% had an M protein detected in the urine, P < 0.001. Conversely, among patients with a positive urine M-protein, 91% had an abnormal FLC ratio. When all the 2194 data points were considered together, there was a significant correlation between the urine M protein level and the FLC levels (FLC level calculated as the difference between involved and uninvolved levels), rho=0.763, P < 0.001. The correlation did not change when patients with a serum creatinine of over 2.5 were excluded. The correlation between FLC levels and urinary M protein can be affected by several factors such as renal function that will differ across patients. Therefore, we examined whether the correlation between the two variables is stronger when the variations introduced by inter-patient differences in the relationship between the two variables are eliminated. In order to do this, we studied individual patients on whom multiple data points over time were available. One patient who had the maximum number of paired assessments (23 pairs) of serum FLC level and urinary M protein; the correlation between the two variables over time was highly significant, rho 0.981, p<0.001. Similarly 26 other patients who had measurable urine M protein levels in whom 10 nor more paired observations over time were available, also showed significant correlations, rho, range 0.726–0.981, p<0.01.
Conclusion: There is a significant correlation between urine M-protein and serum free light chain across patients and the correlation is stronger in individual patients in whom the effect of inter-patient variation in other confounding factors can be eliminated. These data if confirmed in a clinical trial setting would support the use of serum FLC levels instead of urinary M protein measurements to assess response to therapy.
Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.