Blast cells from 100 cases of acute leukemia were evaluated for the presence of methylthioadenosine phosphorylase (MTAase), an enzyme important in polyamine metabolism. Ten cases (10%) had undetectable levels of MTAase activity. Of the 10, 5 had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), 3 had acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML) and 2 expressed mixed lineage markers as determined by immunophenotyping. A relatively high frequency (38%) of MTAase deficiency was seen in ALL of T-cell origin. Nonmalignant hematopoietic cells from three patients with MTAase-deficient leukemias had readily detectable enzyme activity. Chromosomal abnormalities were detected in four of the seven MTAase- deficient cases in which karyotypic analysis was performed. No consistent karyotypic defect was apparent, and only one case displayed changes in chromosome 9, the putative location of the MTAase structural gene. The clinical findings among the enzyme-deficient cases were unremarkable except that all patients were male (P less than .01). Only one patient had “lymphomatous” features. We conclude that MTAase deficiency occurs in a wide variety of acute leukemias, that the lack of enzyme activity is specific to the malignant cells, and that an increased incidence occurs in ALL of T-cell origin. Furthermore, no specific gross chromosomal abnormality is associated with the enzyme deficiency. The marked male predominance in patients with MTAase- deficient acute leukemias suggests involvement of the X chromosome in the loss of enzyme activity. The absence of MTAase in some leukemias may be therapeutically exploitable.

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