Ig heavy-chain (IgH) and partial V delta 2-D delta 3 T-cell receptor (TCR) gene rearrangements were investigated, by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification and sequence analysis, in 52 patients at presentation and first relapse and in 14 at both first and second relapse of B-lineage acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In combination, these techniques amplified one or more clonal markers at presentation in 90% of patients (IgH-PCR, 75%; V delta 2-D delta 3-PCR, 46%; both, 33%). Changes in the pattern of amplification between presentation and first relapse were seen in 31% of patients positive by IgH-PCR at presentation and in 25% of those positive by TCR delta-PCR. Only 3 patients showed complete change in their rearrangements, which is suggestive of relapse with a new clone. Furthermore, despite the high reported rates of oligoclonality and clonal evolution at the IgH locus, the results presented show that false-negative minimal residual disease (MRD) detection can be avoided by designing D-N-J probes to all presentation rearrangements. Using a PCR approach for both gene markers, false-negative testing because of clonal evolution would have only occurred in 3 (8%) of the IgH-positive patients, in contrast to 5 (21%) of V delta 2-D delta 3-positive patients. Combining these two systems increases the proportion of patients open to study to 90%, allows comparative studies of the sensitive of the two methods, and reduces the rate of false-negative assessment of MRD caused by clonal evolution to less than 10%. We conclude that large prospective PCR studies of MRD detection should examine gene rearrangements at multiple loci to maximize their applicability and to minimize false-negative relapse prediction.

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