Background: Following WHO and ELN guidelines, standard diagnostics and risk stratification for acute leukemias (AML and ALL) are based on genetic information gathered by a combination of cytogenetics and targeted molecular profiling. Today, comprehensive techniques, i.e WGS and WTS (whole genome and transcriptome sequencing) and the accompanying clinical bioinformatics workflows may even refine and individualize diagnostics.

Aim: To evaluate the clinical utility and added value of WGTS in a real-world setting in comparison to standard of care genetic diagnostics.

Patients and Methods: The study enrolled 113 patients, 97 with AML and 16 with ALL, diagnosed according to WHO criteria based on cytomorphology, immunophenotyping, cyto- and molecular genetics. WGS (100x) and WTS (50 Mio reads) were performed on NovaSeq instruments. For selected AML cases CD3+ MAC sorted cells were used as normal controls (30x). Variants were called with Strelka2, Manta and GATK using a tumor w/o normal pipeline, fusions with Arriba, STAR-Fusion and Manta.

Results: All patients were analyzed for structural variants (SV), copy number variations (CNV) and copy-neutral loss of heterozygosity (cnLOH) based on WGS data and the presence of fusion transcripts and expression patterns based on WTS data. Samples without a normal control (n = 74) were analyzed for 121 genes recurrently mutated in myeloid/lymphoid neoplasms, whereas for 39 AML cases with CD3+ normal controls the whole exome was assessed.

Overall, 308/333 (92%) gene mutations were consistently identified by targeted sequencing and WGS. Due to the higher read depth, 25/333 (8%) sub-clonal mutations were only detected by targeted sequencing, with 23/25 showing a variant allele fraction <10%. However, 40 gene mutations were identified exclusively by WGS due to the unrestricted analytical scope (e.g. PTPN11, DDX54). Every patient carried on average 3.3 gene mutations within the 121 genes of interest. The number increased to 63 variants (mean; range: 46-116) when analyzing the exome. 52/63 variants are most likely germline variants based on occurrence in CD3+ control sample. Hence, the CD3+ control samples reduced the number of somatic variants in the exome to 11 (mean; range: 1-23) mostly patient-specific mutations that can be explored for personalized treatment options.

Addressing cytogenetics with relevance to risk stratification and assignment to AML/ALL genetic subgroups, WTS identified all entity defining fusions and WGS and chromosome banding analysis (CBA) showed a very high concordance. In 10 patients WGS missed subclonal aberrations due to small clone size (median clone size detected by IP-FISH analysis: 6%). However, WGS provided additional information in 40 patients, mostly SV, CNV and cnLOH of unknown significance, but also alterations of biological interest and prognostic and/or therapeutic importance: in one AML case WGTS revealed a KMT2A::MLLT10 rearrangement that was cytogenetically cryptic and not detectable by FISH (KMT2A break apart probe), assigning the patient to the adverse risk group. WGS also identified a cytogenetically cryptic SV leading to an ETV6::ABL1 rearrangement in an ALL patient with complex karyotype. Retrospective analysis showed that the aberration had already been present when the patient presented with an MPN and a normal karyotype (CBA) two years earlier. Hence, WGS led to the diagnosis of an ETV6::ABL1-positive neoplasm in blast phase (poor prognosis), which might be treated with tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Of note, in 3 AML patients a 7q deletion or complex SV leading to a 7q deletion resulted in a CDK6::NOM1 fusion transcript and high MNX1 expression. In addition, WGS revealed in one patient with ETP-ALL a cytogenetically cryptic translocation t(7;14)(q36;q32) affecting the IGH locus and the NOM1 gene, accompanied by high MNX1 expression. Elevated MNX1 expression as a result of t(7;12)(q36;p13) is a very rare event in pediatric AML, but our findings might suggest a more important role of MNX1 expression in adult acute leukemia than previously known.

Conclusions: This prospective study in a real-world setting 1) demonstrated the diagnostic power of WGTS with an accuracy comparable to gold standard techniques, 2) added important prognostic information, 3) identified potential new therapeutic targets and 4) gave new insights into disease biology. WGTS significantly will improve and refine diagnostics in the future.

Meggendorfer:MLL Munich Leukemia Laboratory: Current Employment. Truger:MLL Munich Leukemia Laboratory GmbH: Current Employment. Walter:MLL Munich Leukemia Laboratory: Current Employment. Baer:MLL Munich Leukemia Laboratory: Current Employment. Hutter:MLL Munich Leukemia Laboratory: Current Employment. Nadarajah:MLL Munich Leukemia Laboratory: Current Employment. Kern:MLL Munich Leukemia Laboratory: Current Employment, Other: Ownership. Haferlach:Munich Leukemia Laboratory: Current Employment, Other: Part ownership. Haferlach:MLL Munich Leukemia Laboratory: Current Employment, Other: Ownership.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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