In T-ALL, in contrast to BCP-ALL, molecular subgroups are less well defined. Molecular subgroups are based on aberrant expression of oncogenes often resting upon structural aberrations (chromosomal translocation, copy number variations, point mutations). So far, comprehensive studies on molecular subgroups have been predominantly performed in pediatric patients. The clinical relevance of molecular characteristics is not taken into account for risk stratification and targeted therapeutic options for T-ALL patients are limited. Risk stratification is mainly based on immunophenotype and MRD response. Thus, in the German Multicenter Study Group for Adult ALL (GMALL) protocols early and mature T-ALL and molecular failure after first consolidation are high risk features. Whole RNA transcriptome sequencing (RNAseq) enables molecular subgroup allocation profiles with potential prognostic relevance. Herein, we investigated a large cohort of 161 adult T-ALL patients with RNAseq for molecular subgroups and their clinical implication.

Patients and methods:

RNAseq data (Illumina HiSeq 4000, 100 or 125 bp paired-end, average read count ~30 million reads/sample) were generated from 161 adult T-ALL patients from diagnostic bone marrow samples. For 84 of these T-ALL patients, we additionally investigated DNA methylation using Infinium 450k methylation bead arrays and mutation status using deep targeted DNA sequencing with a gene panel consisting of 206 genes (HiSeq 1500, 100 bp paired-end, average ~800 reads/bp). All patients were treated likewise within pediatric inspired protocols of the GMALL. Clinical follow up and outcome data were available for 129 patients aged between 18 and 55 years.


Based on oncogene expression, we could assign molecular subgroups to 160 out of the 161 T-ALL patients: HOXA: n=37 (23%), TLX1: n=37 (23%), TAL/LMO: n=33 (20%), LYL1/LMO2: n=31 (19%), TLX3: n=17 (11%) , NKX2-1: n=4 (2%), TAL2: n=1 (1%). Among others, gene fusion events incorporating TAL1 (n=16), HOXA (n=6), TLX1 (n=14), TLX3 (n=2) and NKX2 (n=2) were detected as underlying mechanisms.

Age distribution revealed more TAL/LMO in the younger population (16-25 years: 35% versus >35 years: 3%; p=0.001) and more LYL1/LMO2 and HOXA in the older patients (16-25 years: 23% vs. >35 years: 40%; n.s.).

DNA methylation analyses for 84 of the 161 patients support the molecular classification with four distinct subgroups demonstrating a homogenous methylation profile for the TLX1 driven subgroup (methylation cluster M3, n=30). In contrast, methylation cluster M2 (n=21) showed a hypomethylation in CpG islands and comprises the majority of TAL/LMO positive cases (19/21) including all samples with STIL-TAL1 fusions. M1 (n=25) and M4 (n=7) clusters comprised TLX3 (mainly cluster M1, 8/10), HOXA and LYL1/LMO2 cases. Mutation analysis showed a high rate of NOTCH1 (n=71%) mutations in the TLX1 subgroup and an increased rate of mutations in the JAK/STAT pathway (n=29%) and epigenetic regulators (n=50%) in HOXA and LYL1/LMO2 subgroups.

Regarding clinical outcome, 126 out of 129 (98%) patients achieved a morphologically complete remission (CR), two patients failed CR, one patient died during induction therapy. Regarding MRD response, 12% of the investigated T-ALL patients showed a molecular failure after consolidation. Noteworthy, we found a molecular CR for 28/30 (93%) patients in the TLX1 subgroup, but only 11/19 (58%) respectively 2/6 (33%) in the HOXA and the LYL1/LMO2 subgroup. This finding results in exceptional five year-overall survival (5y-OS) of 93% in TLX1 patients. Together with the NKX2-1 subgroup (n=4, with 100% 5y-OS), these patients build a prognostically favourable risk group in the overall cohort (94% 5y-OS versus 76% in TAL-LMO patients versus 62% in all other subgroups, p=0.007). This result could not only be found in the overall cohort, but also within the already good risk subgroup of thymic T-ALL patients (93% vs. 75%, p=0.02).


This is to our knowledge the largest cohort of adult T-ALL patients characterized by RNAseq on molecular level. Our findings point towards an age dependent distribution of molecular subgroups contributing to age-dependent outcome differences. Patients with TLX1 reveal a molecular subgroup with extraordinary good prognosis. Within thymic T-ALL, the subgroup of patients without TLX1 (~53%) has an inferior but still good prognosis.


Fiedler:Gilead: Other: support for meeting attendance; Jazz Pharmaceuticals: Honoraria, Other: support for meeting attendance; Abbvie: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Morphosys: Consultancy, Honoraria; Celgene: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Pfizer: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Novartis: Consultancy, Honoraria; ARIAD/Incyte: Consultancy, Honoraria; Amgen: Consultancy, Honoraria, Other: support for meeting attendance, Patents & Royalties, Research Funding; Daiichi Sankyo: Other: support for meeting attendance. Alakel:Pfizer: Consultancy. Schwartz:AMGEN: Other: personal fees and non-financial support; Novartis: Other: personal fees and non-financial support; Jazz Pharmaceuticals: Other: personal fees and non-financial support; Pfizer: Other: personal fees ; BTG Intl Inc: Other: personal fees ; Gilead Sciences: Other: personal fees and non-financial support ; MSD Sharp & Dohme: Other: personal fees ; Basilea: Other: non-financial suppor. Müller-Tidow:Pfizer: Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Daiichi Sankyo: Research Funding; Janssen-Cilag GmbH: Speakers Bureau; BiolineRx: Research Funding. Brüggemann:Regeneron: Research Funding; Affimed: Research Funding; Amgen: Consultancy, Honoraria, Research Funding; Janssen: Consultancy, Honoraria; Incyte: Consultancy; Roche: Consultancy; Celgene: Consultancy. Goekbuget:Servier: Consultancy, Research Funding; Amgen: Consultancy, Research Funding; Pfizer: Consultancy, Research Funding; Novartis: Consultancy, Research Funding; Gilead: Consultancy; Erytech: Consultancy; Kite: Consultancy; Jazz: Consultancy, Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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