Somatic mutation of the N-ras oncogene occurs frequently in de novo acute myeloid leukemia (AML). By virtue of their relation to AML, myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) provide an in vivo model of human leukemogenesis. By using a strategy for analysis of gene mutation based on in vitro amplification of target sequences by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and selective oligonucleotide hybridization we analyzed the mutational status of codons 12, 13, and 61 of Ha-ras, K-ras, and N- ras in peripheral blood (PB) and/or bone marrow (BM) in 34 cases of primary MDS. Mutations at codon 12 of Ki-ras or N-ras were detected in three cases (9%): one of six cases of refractory anemia with excess blasts (RAEB) and two of nine cases of chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML). The nucleotide substitution differed in each. In all cases the mutant allele was detectable in PB cells. A sustained hematologic remission was achieved after low-dose cytarabine therapy in the case of RAEB. Neither case of CMML exhibited signs of disease progression during follow-up at 7 and 12 months. In contrast, four of 31 patients without the ras mutation underwent transformation to AML within 12 months of genetic analysis. We conclude that ras mutations in MDS are heterogeneous and may develop at an early stage during the evolution of MDS. Their detection in PB cells illustrates the potential utility of ras mutation as a clonal marker in myeloid malignancy.

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