Hybrid fusion genes are specific tumor markers of several leukemic subtypes. The use of reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to amplify chimeric cDNAs allows sensitive detection of the neoplastic clone for diagnostic and monitoring studies in these leukemias. Nonetheless, the clinical relevance of minimal residual disease (MRD) evaluation by PCR remains controversial. In this study, 9 patients (pts) with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) in long-term remission for 4 to 12 years were analyzed for the presence of MRD by RT- PCR amplification of the specific PML/RAR-alpha fusion gene. Seven pts had been treated with conventional chemotherapy (CHT) alone, 1 had undergone allogeneic bone marrow transplantation (BMT), and 1 autologous BMT as consolidation therapy after CHT. In 8 cases, the presence of the t(15;17) rearrangement could be documented in diagnostic BM specimens by cytogenetic and/or molecular analysis. A two- rounds “nested” RT-PCR assay with sensitivity levels of 1 in 10(5) was used to analyze BM samples collected at 32 to 141 months from the achievement of complete remission (CR). In no cases were residual PML/RAR-alpha transcripts detectable in these remission controls. All patients are in unmaintained CR at 48 to 154 months from CR and at 6 to 17 months from PCR evaluation. These results suggest that long-term survival of APL is associated with eradication of cells carrying the specific PML/RAR-alpha rearrangement, indicating that PCR negativity should be considered the therapeutic goal in these patients. Our findings further strengthen the clinical relevance of PCR monitoring studies in APL, as opposite to other leukemic subtypes (chronic myeloid leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia-M2) in which the prognostic significance of PCR evaluation is unclear.

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