Monitoring Mixed Lineage Leukemia Expression May Help Identify Patients with Mixed Lineage Leukemia–Rearranged Acute Leukemia Who Are at High Risk of Relapse after Allogeneic Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation

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Monitoring Mixed Lineage Leukemia

Expression May Help Identify Patients with

Mixed Lineage Leukemia

eRearranged Acute

Leukemia Who Are at High Risk of Relapse

after Allogeneic Hematopoietic Stem Cell

Transplantation

Jing Liu

1

, Yu Wang

1

, Lan-Ping Xu

1

, Dai-Hong Liu

1

,

Ya-Zhen Qin

1

, Ying-Jun Chang

1

, Kai-Yan Liu

1

,

Xiao-Jun Huang

1,2,*

1Peking University People’s Hospital, Peking University of Hematology, Beijing Key Laboratory of

Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation, Beijing, China

2Peking-Tsinghua Center for Life Sciences, Beijing, China

Article history:

Received 16 January 2014 Accepted 5 March 2014 Key Words:

Minimal residual disease Mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) acute leukemia

Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation

a b s t r a c t

To evaluate the prognostic value of the expression of the mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) gene for predicting the relapse of patients with MLL-rearranged acute leukemia (AL) after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (allo-HSCT), the levels of MLL transcripts in bone marrow (BM) specimens were monitored serially by real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RQ-PCR) at predetermined time points in 40 patients with MLL-rearranged AL who were treated with allo-HSCT. These patients were followed for a median of 24.5 months (range, 8 to 60 months). A total of 236 BM samples were collected and analyzed. Of these, 230 were monitored concurrently for minimal residual disease (MRD) byflow cytometry (FCM) for leukemia-associated aberrant immune phenotypes and by RQ-PCR for the expression of the Wilms tumor (WT1) gene. The 3-year cumulative incidence of relapse in patients who experienced MLL-positive patients (MLL> .0000%) (n ¼ 9) after HSCT was 93.5% (95% confidence interval [CI], 87% to 100%) compared with 12.5% (95% CI, 5.6% to 19.4%) for MLL-negative patients (n¼ 31) (P < .001). For these 2 patient groups, the 3-year overall survival (OS) was 12.5% (95% CI, .8% to 24.2%) and 77.8% (95% CI, 68.4% to 87.2%) (P< .001), respec-tively, and the 3-year leukemia-free survival (LFS) was 0% and 72.2% (95% CI, 61.1% to 83.3%), respectively (P< .001). MLL positivity was associated with a higher rate of relapse (hazard ratio [HR], 18.643; 95% CI, 3.449 to 57.025; P¼ .001), lower LFS (HR, 7.267; 95% CI, 2.038 to 25.916; P ¼ .002), and lower OS (HR, 8.259; 95% CI, 2.109 to 32.336; P¼ .002), as determined by Cox multivariate analysis. The expression of the MLL gene had a higher specificity and sensitivity than WT1 or MRD monitored by FCM for predicting the relapse of the pa-tients with MLLþ AL. Our results suggest that monitoring the expression of the MLL gene may help to identify patients with MLLþ AL who are at high risk of relapse after allo-HSCT and may provide a guide for suitable intervention.

Ó 2014 American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation.

INTRODUCTION

The structural abnormality of the chromosomal band

11q23 (11q23þ) bearing the translocation of the mixed

lineage leukemia (MLL) gene is a recurrent chromosomal rearrangement observed in 3% to 4% of patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and 3% to 7% of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)[1,2]. AML with t (9;11) was determined to be in the intermediate risk category by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, whereas cases with other balanced 11q23 translocations were found to have an unfavorable risk, with relapse rates reported of 47% to

100% and overall survival of 0% to 45% [3,4]. ALL with

balanced 11q23 translocations is also considered to be high

risk and has a reported overall survival of 20% to 29% in most large multicenter studies [5-7]. The long-term survival of patients has remained poor due to a high rate of relapse with chemotherapy alone[3-7].

Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (allo-HSCT) is 1 of the curative therapies currently available for acute leukemia (AL). In a prospective, multicenter cohort study conducted in 2012, we demonstrated that the outcome

of patients with MLLþ leukemia undergoing allo-HSCT

compared favorably with that observed in various studies with chemotherapy alone and showed that allo-HSCT could be a valuable choice of treatment for patients with MLLþ AL [8]. However, the relapse rate at 3 years was still 25.3% (95% CI, 12.7% to 37.9%). The early detection of relapse by moni-toring minimal residual disease (MRD) is useful for guiding appropriate interventions that could aid in prevention of hematological relapse. For subtypes of AL with specific biomarkers, such as BCR/ABL and AML1/ETO, the expressed fusion gene can be used for monitoring MRD. Because MLL is a recurrent chromosomal rearrangement in AL, we

Financial disclosure: See Acknowledgments on page 935.

* Correspondence and reprint requests: Xiao-Jun Huang, Peking Univer-sity People’s Hospital, Institute of Hematology, No.11, Xizhimen South Street, Xicheng District, Beijing 100044, Peoples Republic of China.

E-mail address:huangxiaojun@bjmu.edu.cn(X.-J. Huang).

1083-8791/$e see front matter Ó 2014 American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbmt.2014.03.008

American Society for Blood

ASBMT

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hypothesized that the expression of the ML gene could be useful for predicting early recurrence in patients with MLLþ AL after allo-HSCT. To date, most studies have focused on the prognostic value of MLL during induction or consolidation therapy, and no studies have examined the impact of moni-toring MLL expression before and after HSCT. Therefore, we conducted a prospective cohort to investigate whether a quantitative evaluation of MLL expression could provide a useful method for monitoring early relapse of MLLþ AL after allo-HSCT. We found that the incidence of leukemia relapse after transplantation was significantly higher in patients with detectable MLL expression after the second month after HSCT.

METHODS Patients

Between October 2007 and October 2012, 40 consecutive patients diagnosed with MLLþ AL undergoing allo-HSCT at the Peking University People’s Hospital, Institute of Hematology were enrolled. These patients were part of a multicenter clinical trial, registered atwww.chictr.orgas # ChiCTR-ONC-12002739, the clinical outcome of which was previously re-ported in 2013[8]. These 40 patients who were treated at our hospital were monitored sequentially for MLL expression and were enrolled in the current cohort. The patients’ data were updated until November 30, 2013. The in-clusion and exin-clusion criteria were identical to those for the previous trial

[8]. The institutional review board at the hospital approved the protocol, and all patients or their guardians signed consent forms approved by the insti-tutional review board.

Donor Selection and Transplantation Protocols

A matched sibling donor was chosen as afirst treatment option. A suitable, closely HLA-matched unrelated donor, specifically with more than 8 of 10 matching A, B, C, DR, DQ loci and 5 of 6 or 6 of 6 matching HLA-A, B, DR loci, was the second choice. Patients were eligible for haploidentical stem cell transplantation if a matched sibling donor or a suitable, closely HLA-matched unrelated donor was unavailable or if there was insufficient time for an unrelated donor search because of disease status. The donors and patients were assessed for degree of HLA matching. HLA-A and HLA-B typing was performed by intermediate resolution DNA typing, and HLA-DRB1 typing was performed using high-resolution DNA techniques. All patients in this study received myeloablative conditioning regimens. The condi-tioning therapy for patients undergoing haploidentical or unrelated HSCT was as previously reported[8,9]

Sample Preparation

Bone marrow (BM) samples from patients were obtained to assess MRD after HSCT. The MRD time points that we monitored included at time of allo-HSCT; 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months, 9 months, and 12 months after allo-HSCT; and every 6 months thereafter to the defined endpoints or for at least until 1 year after transplantation. More frequent MRD monitoring was carried out in some patients, depending on their in-dividual disease status.

RQ-PCR

Mononuclear BM cells were obtained by Ficoll Hypaque density gradient centrifugation. TRIzol reagent (Invitrogen, Carlsbad, CA) was used to extract total RNA according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Random hexamer primers and Moloney murine leukemia virus reverse transcriptase were used to transcribe RNA into cDNA. We used Taqman-based RQ-PCR technology, and all PCR reactions andfluorescence measurements were performed using an ABI PRISM 7500 real-time PCR system (PE Applied Biosystems, Foster City, CA). We selected ABL as a control gene to compensate for variation in quality and quantity of the RNA and cDNA. The primers and probe for ABL were based on a report from the Europe Against Cancer Program[10,11]. MLL fusion transcripts were amplified as described previously[12-14]. Each PCR run included a negative control (H2O), a positive control, and a set of serial

dilutions of ABL plasmids. The construction of ABL plasmid calibrators was performed as previously described[15]. Any sample with< 3  104 copies of ABL was regarded as poor quality and was excluded from the test. The ex-periments were performed in duplicate. The transcript level was calculated as a percentage of the target transcript copies to ABL copies.

Flow Cytometry

MRD detected by 4-color flow cytometry (FCM) was previously described[16,17]. Leukemia-associated immunophenotype were identified in diagnostic BM specimens and marker combinations that allowed detec-tion of 1 leukemia cell per 1000 mononuclear BM cells were applied to subsequent samples.

Donor Lymphocyte Infusion

Modified donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI) was administered to 2 patients without acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) who showed evidence of recipient chimerism or MRD detected by molecular or cytogenetic methods after a trial of immunosuppressant withdrawal[18]. The modified DLI regimen consisted of granulocyte-colony stimulating factoreprimed peripheral blood stem cells, instead of harvested nonprimed donor lymphocytes, and short-term immunosuppressive agents[19]. Prophylactic DLI was administered to a total of 6 patients between day 28 and day 60 after transplantation. The 3 patients with nonremission status who were identified to have a very high risk of leukemia relapse in the case of GVHD absence[20]received prophylactic DLI, and the other 3 patients who underwent transplantation in complete remission (CR) received prophylactic DLI at the physician’s discretion. Definitions and Assessments

Detectable MLL expression at any level (MLL> .0000%) was defined as MLL positive in this study. The day of engraftment was defined as the first day of 3 consecutive post-transplantation days on which the absolute neutrophil count (ANC) exceeded 500/mL. Patients who survived at least 28 days were consid-ered to have had successful engraftment. The criteria for grading acute GVHD (aGVHD) and chronic GVHD (cGVHD) have been previously published[21,22]. CR was defined as hematological CR; that is, < 5% BM blasts, the absence of blasts in peripheral blood, the absence of extramedullary disease, an ANC > 1.0  109/L, and a platelet count> 100  109/L with no red cell transfusions.

Relapse was defined by morphologic evidence of disease in the peripheral blood, marrow, or extramedullary sites. Chimerism was evaluated in recipient peripheral blood cells by FISH. When the patient and donor were of the same sex, chimerism was assessed by using PCR-based analyses of polymorphic minisatellite or microsatellite regions (short tandem repeats [STRs]). Table 1

Clinical Characteristics of the Patients with MLLþ AL Who Received Allo-HSCT

Characteristic All Patients MLL before Transplantation MLL after Transplantation Negative Positive Negative Positive

No. of patients 40 24 11 31 9

Age, median (range), yr 27 (2-53) 27 (2-53) 25 (2-41) 25 (2-53) 29 (12-51) Sex (male:female), % 46:54 50:50 37:63 45:55 45:55 Underlying disease (AML:ALL), % 42:58 35:45 55:45 39:61 44:56 Pretransplantation disease status (CR1:Non-CR1), % 88:12 95:5 64:36 97:3 56:44 MLL fusion partners (9p22:4q21:6q22:10p12:17q21:19p13:

complex karyotype)

9:16:6:4:1:2:3 8:11:2:3:0:2:2 1:5:4:1:1:0:0 8:12:4:3:0:0:2 1:4:2:1:1:2:0 Donor type (HLA identical:unrelated:HLA haploidentical), % 10:15:75 9:21:70 11:10:79 10:16:74 10:14:76 ABO compatibility (compatible: incompatible), % 54:36 55:45 53:37 54:36 54:36 WBC at diagnosis (less than 30:30 or more), 109/L, % 58:43 54:46 54:46 55:45 57:43

Infused nuclear cells, median (range), 108/kg 7.88 (.4-11.13) 7.88 (.4-10.35) 7.36 (1.2-11.13) 7.92 (.4-11.13) 7.65 (2.7-10.46)

Infused CD34þcells, median (range), 106/kg 2.21 (.81-6.19) 3.42 (1.2-6.19) 2.06 (.81-5.99) 2.21 (9.81-6.19) 2.43 (1.2-5.73)

Diagnosis to transplantation interval, median (range), d 180 (100-900) 143 (100-324) 189 (121-900) 143 (100-277) 192 (121-900)

Prophylactic DLI, n 6 2 4 3 3

AML indicates acute myeloid leukemia; ALL, acute lymphoblastic leukemia; CR1,first complete remission; HLA, human leukocyte antigen; WBC, white blood cell count; DLI, donor lymphocyte infusion; d, day; Allo-HSCT, allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation; MLL, mixed lineage leukemia; AL, acute leukemia.

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Endpoints and Statistical Analysis

The primary endpoint studied was relapse rate and the secondary endpoint was survival. The event for overall survival (OS) was death (regardless of the cause). The events for leukemia-free survival (LFS) included death in CR or relapse. The reference date of November 30, 2013 was used to define the end of follow-up.

Summary statistics, such as proportions, means, standard deviations, medians, and ranges, were used to describe the patient characteristics, pretransplantation variables, and outcomes. The associations between MLL expression and post-transplantation outcomes were analyzed by the Kaplan-Meier method or calculated using cumulative incidence curves to accommodate competing risks. The competing risk for engraftment was death without engraftment; the competing risks for GVHD were death without GVHD, relapse, and graft rejection; relapse was a competing risk for nonrelapse mortality (NRM); and NRM was a competing risk for relapse. Differences in relapse, transplantation-related mortality (TRM), LFS, and OS between groups were calculated using the log-rank test. A 2-sided P value of .05 was regarded as significant. To test the independence of relapse-predicting factors, multivariate Cox regression analysis was applied. The independence of categorical parameters was calculated using the chi-square test or Fisher exact test, and the distribution of continuous variables was calculated using the Mann-Whitney U-test. All statistical analyses were performed using SPSS 19.0 software (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL). R software was used to calculate the cumulative incidence, considering the presence of competing risk.

RESULTS

Patient Characteristics and Transplantation Outcomes There were 10 children (younger than 16 years of age) and 30 adults (older than 16 years) in this cohort. Patient char-acteristics are shown inTable 1. The transplantation outcome was consistent with the results of a previously reported multicenter trial, as described in detail[8](Table S1). Prognostic Value of MLL Gene Expression Level at the Time of HSCT

Of the 45 patients with MLL-rearranged AL, 35 under-went analysis by RQ-PCR to detect MLL expression at the time of allo-HSCT. The association between the status of MLL expression and the clinical outcomes was evaluated for these patients. Detectable MLL expression at any level (MLL> .0000%) was defined as MLL positivity.

Of these 35 patients, 11 were MLL positive before receiving the conditioning regimen, with a median of 4.320% of MLL rearrangement at the molecular level, as determined by RQ-PCR (range, .012% to 25.3%). Five of the 11 patients relapsed, compared with 2 of the remaining 24 patients with no MLL expression at the time of relapse after allo-HSCT. The 3-year cumulative relapse frequencies (CIR) of the ML-positive and -negative groups were 45.5% and 8.3%, respec-tively (P ¼ .003). The median time to relapse of the MLL positive group was 314 days (range, 116 to 408 days). The 3-year LFS and OS of the MLL-positive and MLL-negative groups were 27.3% versus 79.2% (P¼ .003) and 36.4% versus 83.3% (P¼ .001), respectively (Figure 1).

Prognostic Value of MLL Expression after HSCT

A total of 9 patients had detectable MLL expression after HSCT during the follow-up period, with a median of 1.300% (range, .0037% to 16.5%) occurring at a median of 100 days (range, 30 to 610 days) after transplantation. Five of the 11 patients who were positive at the time of transplantation were determined to be MLL positive after HSCT. In contrast, 4 of the 24 patients who were negative at the time of transplantation were found to be MLL positive after HSCT. At 1 and 2 months after HSCT, MLL positivity was detected in

Figure 1. (A) Rate of relapse based on MLL expression at the time of allo-HSCT (P< .001). (B) Leukemia-free survival based on MLL expression at the time of allo-HSCT (P< .001). (C) Overall survival based on MLL expression at the time of allo-HSCT (P< .001).

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only 2 patients. At 3 months, MLL positivity was detected in another 3 patients. At 4 and 5 months, 3 additional patients became MLL positive. The impact of the MLL expression after HSCT on the clinical outcomes was evaluated for 40 patients with MLL-rearranged AL after HSCT.

The LFS, OS, and CIR were compared between patients who were MLLþ or MLL- after transplantation. The 3-year

CIR of patients who were MLL positive (MLL > .0000%)

(n ¼ 9) after HSCT was 93.5% (95% CI, 87% to 100%)

compared with 12.5% (95% CI, 5.6% to 19.4%) for MLL-negative patients (n ¼ 31) (P < .001). For these 2 groups, the 3-year OS was 12.5% (95% CI, .8% to 24.2%) and 77.8% (95% CI, 68.4% to 87.2%), respectively (P< .001); the 3-year LFS was 0% and 72.2% (95% CI, 61.1% to 83.3%), respectively (P< .001) (Figure 2B-D). We performed a receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis to evaluate the association between relapse and the highest level of expression of MLL before hematological relapse after HSCT in all patients. The area under the ROC curve value was .897 (95% CI, .744 to 1.000; P¼ .000) (Figure 2A). These results indicate that MLL expression is a sensitive and specific biomarker for pre-dicting relapse of AL after HSCT.

As most MLL positivity emerged at 3 and 4 months after HSCT (7 of 9, 77.8%), we evaluated the prognostic value at these 2 time points. For patients who developed MLL pos-itivity at 3 months after HSCT (n¼ 4), the 3-year CIR was 100% (95% CI, 89.7% to 100%) compared with 12.1% (95% CI, 7.4% to 16.8%) for the MLL-negative patients (n¼ 35) (P < .001). The 3-year OS for the 2 groups was 25% (95% CI, 13.5% to 36.5%) and 70.2% (95% CI, 61.4% to 79%), respectively (P< .001); the 3-year LFS was 0% (95% CI, 0% to 11.2%) and 67.6% (95% CI, 58.3% to 76.9%), respectively (P< .001). For

patients who developed MLL positivity at 4 months after

HSCT (n ¼ 6), the 3-year CIR was 100% (95% CI, 88.4% to

100%) compared with 9.4% (95% CI, 1.3% to 17.5%) for MLL-negative patients (n ¼ 33) (P < .001). The 3-year OS for these 2 groups was 16.7% (95% CI, 7.5% to 15.9%) and 75% (95% CI, 66.6% to 83.4%), respectively (P< .001); the 3-year LFS was 0% (95% CI, 0% to 10.2%) and 71.9% (95% CI, 63.3% to 80.2%), respectively (P< .001).

The Predictive Value of Sequential Monitoring of MRD The predictive value of sequential monitoring of MRD by RQ-PCR in BM specimens was demonstrated in the 9 patients with relapse (Figure 3). The median time from the detection of MRD positivity in the BM samples to hematological relapse was 109 days (range, 44 to 305 days). Among those 9 patients, 4 had received prophylactic DLI before the development of positive MRD, 2 received DLI for the detection of positive MRD, and the other 2 did not receive DLI because of the nonavail-ability of donor cells. The level of MLL expression before relapse had a wide intra- and interindividual range: 4 of the 9 patients (patients 4, 7, 14, and 24) demonstrated a monthly 1-to 2-log increase of MLL expression before hema1-tologic relapse, 1 patient (patient 34) relapsed quickly after detection of a very low MLL expression (.001% to .01%) twice, whereas the other 3 patients (patients 2, 15, and 22) experienced a decrease of MLL expression before hematologic relapse. The Impact of MRD Status after HSCT on Relapse, OS, and LFS in Multivariate Analysis

We analyzed other variables that may affect the outcome of transplantation including the patients’ age, sex, HLA match, status of the disease before HSCT (CR1 versus

Figure 2. (A) ROC analysis of MLL expression and rate of relapse. (B) The rate of relapse based on MLL expression after allo-HSCT (P < .001). (C) Leukemia-free survival after allo-HSCT based on MLL expression (P< .001). (D) Overall survival after allo-HSCT based on MLL expression (P < .001).

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non-CR1), WBC at diagnosis, and use of prophylactic DLI. The results of univariate analyses were shown inTable 2. Factors with P values < .05 were included in the subsequent Cox multivariate analysis. The association between MLL expres-sion and relapse was then analyzed using a Cox multivariate analysis that included the status of disease before HSCT (CR1 versus non-CR1), prophylactic DLI, and MLL expression before and after HSCT. Interestingly, only MRD positivity after allo-HSCT was associated with a higher rate of relapse

(HR, 18.643; 95% CI, 3.449 to 57.025; P ¼ .001). Cox

multivariate analysis was also performed to investigate the impact of MLL expression after HSCT on LFS and OS. Only MRD positivity after allo-HSCT was associated with lower LFS (HR, 8.259; 95% CI, 2.109 to 32.336; P¼ .002) and OS (HR, 7.267; 95% CI, 2.038 to 25.916; P¼ .002) (Table 3).

Comparison of MLL Expression with Wilms Tumor Gene and MRD Monitored by Four-color FCM after Allo-HSCT

In the 40 patients with AL, monitoring of MRD was also performed concurrently using 4-color FCM for leukemia-associated aberrant immune phenotypes and RQ-RCR for Wilms tumor (WT1) gene expression. The results obtained from these methods were then compared. WT1 positivity and FCM positivity were defined according to previously reported data[23,24]. Both WT1 expression and monitoring of MRD by FCM showed a significant association with relapse (P < .001 and P ¼ .036), respectively. Eleven of the 27 MLL-positive samples were also positive for MRD by FCM, whereas 4 of 203 MLL-negative samples were positive by FCM. A nonpara-metric Spearman analysis showed a significant correlation between MLL expression and MRD monitoring by FCM (Spearman r¼ .397; P ¼ .032). All 27 MLL-positive samples were WT1 positive in this study, whereas the 9 WT1-positive samples were MLL negative. There was a good concordance between the levels of MLL and WT1 expression (Spearman r¼ .404; P < .001). In this cohort of patients with MLLþ AL undergoing allo-HSCT, the expression of the MLL gene had

a higher specificity and sensitivity than WT1 or MRD

monitored by FCM in predicting hematological relapse (Table 4).

Figure 3. Sequential monitoring of MRD in bone marrow specimens. The levels of MRD in consecutive bone marrow samples are shown for 9 patients with a relapse of AL after allo-HSCT.

Table 2

Univariate Analysis of the Variables Affecting Hematological Relapse, TRM, LFS, and OS in Patients with MLLþ AL after Allo-HSCT

Variables TRM Relapse OS LFS P Value P Value P Value P Value Age of recipient 35 y .112 .938 .306 .675 <35 y Underlying disease AML .241 .886 .387 .432 ALL

Pretransplantation disease status

CR1 .161 .013 .001 .005 Non-CR1

Infused nuclear cells (108/kg)

7.78 .138 .269 .034 .042 <7.78 HLA disparity 0/1/2/3 .432 .868 .706 .761 WBC at diagnosis, 109/L 30 .439 .493 .441 .603 <30 ABO compatibility Compatible .867 .274 .860 .639 Incompatible

Diagnosis to treatment interval, d

180 .652 .097 .162 .08 <180 Prophylactic DLI .504 .046 .098 .086 Pretransplantation MLL MLL> .000% .299 .043 .032 .004 MLL¼ .000% Post-transplantation MLL MLL> .000% .326 < .001 < .001 < .001 MLL¼ .000%

TRM indicates transplantation-associated mortality; CIR, cumulative inci-dence of relapse; LFS, leukemia-free survival; OS, overall survival; d, day; allo-HSCT, allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation; DLI, donor lymphocyte infusion; MLL, mixed lineage leukemia; AL, acute leukemia.

Table 3

Multivariate Analysis of the Variables Affecting Hematological Relapse, TRM, LFS, and OS in Patients with MLLþ AL after allo-HSCT

Outcome HR 95% CI P Value Relapse MLL positive 18.643 3.449-57.025 .001 OS MLL positive 8.259 2.109-32.336 .002 LFS MLL positive 7.267 2.038-25.916 .002 LFS indicates leukemia-free survival; OS, overall survival; HSCT, allo-geneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation; MLL, mixed lineage leuke-mia; AL, acute leukeleuke-mia; HR, hazard ratio; CI, confidence interval; TRM, treatment-related mortality.

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The Distribution and Impact of MLL Rearrangement on Clinical Outcome after HSCT in Different Subgroups of Patients

The distribution and impact of the MRD status after HSCT on relapse, OS, and LFS were analyzed separately in sub-groups of patients of and ages with different underlying diseases (Table 5). There were no significant differences be-tween patients with AML and ALL. Nevertheless, the ratio of MLL positivity in children was less than in adults. Nonpara-metric Spearman analysis showed a significant correlation between MLL expression and MRD monitoring by FCM in

both AML (Spearman r¼ .279; P ¼ .048) and ALL (Spearman

r¼ .352; P ¼ .041) subgroups. DISCUSSION

In the present prospective study, we investigated the prognostic value of MLL expression in patients with MLL-rearranged AL undergoing allo-HSCT. To our knowledge, our study is thefirst report that examines the subgroups of pa-tients with MLLþ AL treated uniformly with HSCT. In this report, we demonstrated that MLL expression may help identify patients at high risk of relapse of leukemia after allo-HSCT.

Accumulating evidence has shown that PCR-based MRD monitoring after HSCT is an essential predictor of the outcome in patients with AL[25-28]. Nevertheless, the prognostic value of MRD monitoring targeting MLL-rear-ranged transcripts in AL has not been extensively studied. MRD before transplantation was previously evaluated in 37 patients with ALL by RT(RQ)-PCR targeting BCR-ABL1 or the MLL-AF4 fusion transcripts or by ASO RQ-PCR targeting the rearrangements of antigen-receptor genes. It was found that after a median follow-up period of 23 months, the cumulative incidence of relapse was 46% for MRD-positive and 0% for MRD-negative patients (P¼ .027)[25]. Howev-er, only 2 cases of MLLþ ALL were included in that study. Hence, the prognostic value of MLL expression was not sufficiently studied. Several studies have emphasized the prognostic significance of the levels of MRD in patients

receiving chemotherapy [14,29,30]. Scholl et al. [29]

evaluated the clinical significance of using the RQ-RCR

assay for the quantification of MLL-AF9 fusion transcripts

for monitoring MRD in 19 patients with MLL-AF9 þ AML

receiving chemotherapy; the authors showed that patients whose PCR results were positive at least once for CR during therapy had a significantly higher CIR (P ¼ .004) and worse

OS (P ¼ .003) compared with patients maintaining

PCR-negativity in hematologic-complete remission. Weisser et al.[30]analyzed samples from 44 AML patients with a partial tandem duplication within the MLL-gene (MLL-PTD) during follow-up and observed a 2-log reduction of MLL-PTD expression (in comparison to a < 2-log reduction) within 6 months after the start of chemotherapy was found to be significantly associated with a longer OS. Unlike other

analyses, our cohort focused on patients with MLLþ AL

treated uniformly with allo-HSCT, and the prognostic value of monitoring MLL expression before and after HSCT was evaluated. In agreement with previous observations of monitoring MRD by assessing BCR/ABL as well as TCR rearrangements, we showed that MLL positivity both before and after HSCT had a significant impact on relapse, OS, and LFS, whereas only MLL expression after allo-HSCT was associated with higher relapse rate, and worse OS and LFS in Cox multivariate analyses. The results of the ROC analysis further confirmed that the level of MLL transcript after transplantation was associated with a higher risk of he-matological relapse.

Although maximum sensitivity is obviously important in the detection of MRD, the frequency of monitoring is an essential variable that is often overlooked. Spinelli et al.[25] previously reported that for ALL patients with BCR/ABL and TCR-rearrangements whose MRD status was determined at þ100 days after transplantation, the relapse rate was remarkably low (7%) in PCR-negative patients compared with those who were PCR-positive (80%, P¼ .0006). In our cohort, MLL positivity occurred at a median of 100 days after transplantation and most occurred at 3 and 4 months after

HSCT. Although MRD positivity within the first 2 months

after HSCT was rare and insufficient for statistical analysis, the relapse rate among these MRD-positive patients was relatively high. These data suggest that MLL positivity at any time after allo-HSCT should be considered crucial for sub-sequent therapeutic decisions. Because of the limited num-ber of cases in the present cohort, we cannot conclude whether a threshold of absolute level of MLL expression can predict imminent relapse or whether the slope of increase (rate of change) in MLL expression is most predictive. Recent research showed that molecular monitoring of MRD in the peripheral blood of patients with multiple myeloma was associated with clinical outcome[31]. Jiang Q et al. also found that the correlations of BCR-ABL transcripts between pe-ripheral blood and BM specimens were associated with the molecular response in the BM for chronic myelogenous

leukemia[32]. We wondered whether MLL expression was

detectable in the peripheral blood before relapse. Future

Table 4

Comparison of the Sensitivity and Specificity for Predicting the Recurrence of Leukemia by Assessing MLL, WT1, or FCM by RQ-PCR

Relapse (n¼ 9) No Relapse (n¼ 31) MLL positive/negative 8/1 1/30

WT1 positive/negative 7/2 7/24 FCM positive/negative 5/4 4/27

MLL indicates mixed lineage leukemia; FCM,flow cytometry; RQ-PCR, real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction; WT1, Wilms tumor gene.

Table 5

The Distribution and Impact of MLL Expression on Three-Year CIR, OS, and LFS after HSCT in Different Subgroups of Patients MRD Positive MRD Negative

Percentage CIR 0S LFS Ratio CIR 0S LFS

AML 17% 100% 0% 0% 83% 5% 80% 75%

ALL 31% 80% 20% 0% 69% 0% 72.7% 72.7%

Adult 24% 85.7% 0% 0% 76% 0% 76.2% 76.2%

Children 9% 100% 0% 0% 91% 10% 80% 70%

MLL indicates mixed lineage leukemia; CIR, cumulative incidence of relapse; OS, overall survival; LFS, leukemia-free survival; AML, acute myeloid leukemia; ALL, acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

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research focused on this issue may inform the practicality and necessity of frequent invasive monitoring and provide a feasible method for a deeper understanding of MLL gene expression after HSCT.

Modified DLI was administered to 2 patients without

aGVHD who showed MLL positivity more than once after HSCT, and prophylactic DLI was administered to a total of 6 patients who were identified to be at high risk of relapse at the time of HSCT. Five of these 8 patients relapsed. Although prophylactic DLI showed no significant impact on relapse, OS, and LFS in the Cox multivariate analysis, a decrease of 1 to 2 log of MLL expression was observed in 2 patients who received DLI for intervention after molecular relapse. Thus,

the clinical benefit of MRD-directed DLI and

immunosup-pressive agents withdrawal has yet to be determined and should be studied in the context of a clinical trial.

Scholl et al.[29]reported a 3-year CIR of approximately

25% and OS of 70% for patients with MLLþ AML who

main-tained PCR-negative MRD during hematological remission after chemotherapy only. In our cohort, patients with nega-tive PCR at the time of allo-HSCT had a 3-year CIR of 8.3% and OS of 79.2%. Clearly, PCR negativity at the time of SCT was favorable. However, whether these patients could benefit from allo-HSCT remained to be determined.

In patients with AL undergoing HSCT, MRD monitoring by FCM and the level of WT1 expression were independent prognostic factors that can predict clinical outcomes[23,24]. A correlation between the detection of MLL transcripts and the FCM results was previously reported in 16 patients with

MLLþ AML receiving chemotherapy. Levels of MLL fusion

transcripts with a cut off value of .05% after chemotherapy, as well asflow cytometry, could provide prognostic information in patients with MLLþ AML[33]. We also found significant correlations between the results for MLL and FCM results as well as the results for MLL and WT1. In addition, it appeared that the expression of the MLL gene had higher specificity and sensitivity than WT1 and MRD monitored by FCM in predicting relapse in patients with MLLþ AL undergoing allo-HSCT (Table 4).

In conclusion, our data indicate that MLL expression is a valuable and essential marker for monitoring MRD in pa-tients with MLLþ AL after HSCT. The expression of MLL dur-ing the follow-up period was highly predictive of leukemia relapse and has better specificity and sensitivity than WT1 and MRD monitored by FCM. Although our results need to be confirmed in a large-scale, prospective study, we consider the current qualitative assessment of MLL expression to be a very useful test for the further risk stratification of patients to guide the prevention and management of early hematolog-ical relapse in patients with MLLþ AL after HSCT. Further research should address suitable interventions directed by MRD monitoring after HSCT, which may improve the clinical outcomes of these patients.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Financial disclosure: This work was supported, in part, by The Key Program of National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 81230013), the Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Program (Grant No. Z111107067311070), and the National High-Technology Research and Develop-ment Program (863 Program) of China (Grant No. SS2013AA020104). We thank every faculty member who participated in these studies.

Author contributions: Conception and design: H. X.-J.; analysis and interpretation of the data: Huang Xiao-Jun,

Liu-Jing; drafting of the article: Huang Xiao-Jun, Liu-Jing; final approval of the article: all authors; provision of study materials or patients: all authors; securing research funding: Huang Xiao-Jun; administrative, technical, or logistic support: Huang Xiao-Jun; and collection and assembly of data: Liu-Jing. Conflict of interest statement: There are no conflicts of interest to report.

SUPPLEMENTARY DATA

Supplementary data related to this article can be found online athttp://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbmt.2014.03.008.

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Figure

Updating...

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  13. Gabert J, Beillard E, van der Velden VH, et al. Standardization andquality control studies of
  14. Cerveira N, Lisboa S, Correia C, et al. Genetic and clinical character-ization of 45 acute leukemia patients with MLL gene rearrangements
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  16. Doubek M, Palasek I, Pospisil Z, et al. Detection and treatment of mo-lecular relapse in acute myeloid leukemia with RUNX1 (AML1), CBFB,
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  21. Huang XJ, Wang Y, Liu DH, et al. Administration of short-term immu-nosuppressive agents after DLI reduces the incidence of DLI-associated
  22. Wang Y, Liu DH, Fan ZP, et al. Prevention of relapse using DLI can in-crease survival following HLA-identical transplantation in patients
  23. Martin P, Nash R, Sanders J, et al. Reproducibility in retrospectivegrading of acute graft-versus-host disease after allogeneic marrow
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  29. Campana D, Leung W. Clinical significance of minimal residual diseasein patients with acute leukaemia undergoing haematopoietic stem cell
  30. Bader P, Kreyenberg H, Henze GH, et al. Prognostic value of minimalresidual disease quantification before allogeneic stem-cell
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