Abstract

Background:

Subnormal serum erythropoietin (EPO) level is widely accepted as a minor diagnostic criterion for polycythemia vera (PV) and has retained its value in the revised 2016 World Health Organization (WHO) classification scheme of myeloid neoplasms (Blood. 2016;127:2391). While over 80% of PV patients exhibit subnormal EPO values (Haematologica. 2004;89:1194), very little is known about the incidence, phenotypic connotation, or prognostic significance of serum EPO levels in essential thrombocythemia (ET).

Methods:

Study patients were recruited from the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA. Diagnosis of ET was in strict accordance with the 2016 WHO criteria (Blood. 2016;127:2391) and only patients with EPO measurements at diagnosis or during their chronic phase were considered under the following provisions: i) no evidence of myelofibrotic or leukemic transformation; ii) no treatment with cytoreductive agents at the time of sample collection (and for those with EPO sampling at diagnosis, no prior exposure to cytoreductive therapy); iii) no hemoglobin levels below sex-adjusted values for anemia; and iv) systematic exclusion of all cases of masked PV. Serum erythropoietin levels were measured using Mayo-verified standard immune-enzymatic assay consistent with CLIA requirements with reference range between 4-21 mIU/mL. Standard statistical methods and time-to-event curves prepared using the Kaplan-Meier method were used to compare EPO-stratified groups. The JMP® Pro 13.0.0 software package was used for all analyses (SAS Institute, Cary, NC, USA).

Results:

Among 177 informative ET patients (median age 51 years, range 18-88; 71% females), median serum EPO concentrations were 5.2 mIU/mL (range <1-25) overall and 2.6 mIU/mL (range <1-3.9) and 7.2 mIU/mL (range 4-25) in those with subnormal versus normal/above normal EPO levels, respectively (p<0.0001). The majority of EPO measurements were at the time or within one year of diagnosis (67%), with the remainder obtained at referral or during the chronic clinical course. Risk stratification disclosed low, intermediate, and high risk status in 45%, 33% and 23% of patients, respectively, with no appreciable differences between EPO-stratified subsets.

Subnormal serum EPO levels clustered clinically with JAK2 mutations (95% vs 60%; p<0.0001), higher hemoglobin (median 14.7 vs 13.8 g/dl, range: 12.1-17.8 vs 12-17.1; p<0.0001) and leukocyte counts (median 9.7 vs 8.2 x 109/l, range: 4-28.1 vs 3.9-22; p=0.0001), and arterial thrombosis after diagnosis (13% vs 5%; p=0.04). In addition, all three documented conversions to PV (p=0.01) and none of the six fibrotic progressions (p=0.02) occurred in patients with subnormal serum EPO levels (Table 1).

While serum EPO level had no bearing on overall survival data (p=0.41) (Figure 1A), subnormal circulating EPO concentrations were significantly associated with superior myelofibrosis-free survival (p=0.02) (Figure 1B) but conversely, inferior polycythemia-free survival (p=0.03) (Figure 1C).

Conclusions:

We conclude that subnormal serum EPO levels are relatively frequent in ET, cluster with disease features that are reminiscent of polycythemia vera, and might be associated with a lower risk of fibrotic progression.

Disclosures

No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes

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Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.