There is increasing recognition of the role of inherited germline predisposition for myeloid disorders such as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The additional somatic genetic events required for development of a malignant phenotype are however poorly understood.

A 25 year old woman was referred to the NHLBI hematology branch in March 2014 for a seven year history of pancytopenia. Her medical history included recurrent pneumonias, oral ulcers, severe varicella infection and arthralgias. Prior bone marrow examinations at ages 21 and 23 at outside institutions reported normocellular marrow, tri-lineage hematopoiesis and mild dyspoiesis. Cytogenetics were remarkable for trisomy 8 in 80% (aged 21) or 90% (aged 23) of metaphases.

Previously unrecognized lymphedema was noted on examination. Peripheral blood counts showed WBC 2.28 K/ul [normal range: 3.98-10.04], HGB 9.9 g/dL [11.2-15.7], PLT: 67 K/ul [173-369], ALC: 0.36 K/ul [1.18-3.74] and AMC: 0.06 [0.24-0.86]. Peripheral blood flow cytometry demonstrated decreased CD3+ CD4+ (T) cells, CD19+ (B) cells and NK cells. HLA-DR15 negative. Bone marrow examination showed trilineage hematopoiesis, 50-60% cellularity, mild erythroid predominance and mildly increased, mildly atypical megakaryocytes. Blasts less than 5%. Bone marrow flow cytometry revealed severely decreased B-cells and monocytes, absent B-cell precursors, absent dendritic cells, inverted CD4:CD8 ratio, and atypical myeloid maturation pattern. Cytogenetics demonstrated stable trisomy 8 in 90% of metaphases.

On the basis of this assessment the diagnosis of MDS was confirmed. Sanger sequencing revealed a GATA2 L375S mutation in the second zinc finger of known pathogenic significance.

Four months later she developed increased fatigue and easy bruising with worsening thrombocytopenia (PLT: 10K/ul). Bone marrow was dramatically changed; now markedly hypercellular (90-100%) with diffuse sheets of immature cells consistent with blasts having fine chromatin, distinct or prominent nucleoli, and visible cytoplasm. Blasts were positive for CD33, CD56, CD64, CD123, and CD163; and were negative for CD34, CD14, and myeloperoxidase. Cytogenetics showed a new trisomy 20 in 65% of metaphases, in addition to previously seen trisomy 8 in 100%. A diagnosis of acute monoblastic leukemia (M5a subtype) was made.

At both clinic visits bone marrow aspirate was collected on an IRB approved research sample acquisition protocol. Whole exome sequencing of 1ug DNA was performed using Agilent SureSelect v5 Exome enrichment Kits on an Illumina HiSeq 2000 with 100-bp paired-end reads (Macrogen, Rockville, MD). Data was mapped to hg19 (BWA) and processed using an in-house pipeline (Samtools/Picard/GATK/VarScan/Annovar). Mean read depth of target regions was 157 and 149. There was high correlation between both samples with the exception of a NRAS:NM_002524:exon3:c.C181A:p.Q61K mutation (57 of 180 reads) seen only in the later sample.

Confirmatory ultra-deep sequencing for NRAS was performed using Illumina TruSight Myeloid Sequencing Panel on an Illumina MiSeq. No evidence of the NRAS Q61K mutation was found in the earlier March MDS bone marrow sample even when sequenced to a depth greater than 1750 reads (see figure). The mutation was confirmed in the August AML sample at a variant allele frequency of 35%. If heterozygous this would reflect a clone size of 70%, consistent with data from both cytogenetics (new trisomy 20 in 65% of metaphases) and the 76% blasts documented by bone marrow aspirate smear differential.

We report here the rapid progression to AML in a patient with germline GATA2 MDS associated with development of a new trisomy 20 karyotype and a NRAS Q61K mutation. The NRAS mutation was not detectable after the patient achieved a complete remission following induction chemotherapy further supporting this association. This NRAS mutation has been implicated in the pathogenesis of multiple cancers by constitutive activation of proliferative signaling. GATA2 associated MDS is a high-risk pre-leukemic condition with the potential for rapid evolution to AML. This is the first report of acquired somatic mutations in the RAS/RTK signaling pathway in the context of germline GATA2 insufficiency associated with acute leukemic transformation.


Townsley:Novartis: Research Funding; GSK: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.