The immune reactivity of allogeneic lymphocytes plays a major role in the control of leukemia after bone marrow transplantation. In patients with recurrent leukemia after marrow transplantation, chimerism and tolerance provide ideal conditions for adoptive immunotherapy with donor lymphocytes. We studied the effect of donor lymphocyte transfusions on acute and chronic leukemia in relapse after bone marrow transplantation. One hundred thirty-five patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) (N = 84), acute myeloid leukemia (AML) (N = 23), acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) (N = 22), myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) (N = 5), and polycythemia vera with osteomyelofibrosis (PCV) (N = 1) were treated with transfusions of donor lymphocytes. Patients were monitored for response of leukemia, including in CML, the use of the polymerase chain reaction for bcr/abl mRNA transcripts and for the occurrence of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and myelosuppression. Complete remissions were induced by donor lymphocyte transfusions in 54 patients with CML (73%) and in the patient with PCV; complete remissions were also induced in five patients (29%) with AML and a patient with MDS. In contrast, ALL did not respond to adoptive immunotherapy with donor lymphocyte transfusions. Remissions were durable in patients treated for CML in chronic phase (probability of remission: 87% at 3 years). Lymphocyte transfusions were also given to 18 patients with ALL, AML, MDS, and transformed phase CML who were in remission after chemotherapy. These remissions were not durable. Fifty- two patients (41%) developed GVHD of grade 2 or more, and 41 patients (34%) showed signs of myelosuppression. Seventeen patients died without leukemia, 14 patients with GVHD and/or myelosuppression. Donor lymphocyte transfusions exert strong effects against myeloid forms of leukemia and induce durable remissions in CML.

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