We have developed a strategy based on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for detecting all possible gamma T-cell receptor (gamma TCR) rearrangements and the most common delta TCR rearrangements found in B- lineage and T-acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). The segments amplified from blasts are then directly sequenced to derive clonospecific probes. From a series of 45 patients aged 1 to 15 years (42 B-lineage ALL, 3 T-ALL), 35 (83%) could be followed for minimal residual disease with at least one clonospecific probe. Detection of clonal markers using clonospecific probes routinely allowed the detection of 1 to 10 blasts out of 10(5) cells as determined by serial dilutions of the initial samples. Residual disease was quantitated by a competitive PCR assay based on the coamplification of an internal standard. Twenty children were prospectively followed for periods varying from 7 to 30 months. In most children, a progressive decrease of the tumor load was observed, and blasts became undetectable within 6 months after the initiation of treatment. A slower kinetics of decrease in tumor cells was found in three children. These three patients relapsed with blasts that continued to display the initial clonospecific markers. Three other children had a central nervous system relapse despite the absence of detectable medullary residual disease. The use of both delta and gamma TCR genes as clonal markers, as well as simplification in the methods to detect and quantify residual blasts reported here, will allow the study of the large number of patients required to determine the role of the detection of minimal residual disease by PCR in the follow-up of childhood ALL.

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