Detection of minimal residual disease in acute myelogenous leukemia

P. Raanani*, I. Ben-Bassat

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) is considered to be in complete remission when fewer than 5% of the cells in bone marrow are blasts. Nevertheless, approximately two thirds of patients relapse due to persisting leukemic blasts. The persistence of these cells, below the threshold of morphological detection, is termed minimal residual disease (MRD) and various methods are used for its detection. These methods include classical cytogenetics, fluorescence in situ hybridization, qualitative and quantitative RT-PCR and multiparametric flow cytometry. Currently, less than half of the AML patients have a specific marker detectable by RT-PCR techniques. The major specific molecular markers are involvement of the MLL gene with up to 50 different partners and partial tandem duplications, the core binding factor leukemias with AML1/ETO and CBFβ/MYH11 rearrangements, PML/RARα in acute promyelocytic leukemia, internal tandem duplications and mutations of FLT3 and some other rare translocations. In addition, several other genes show abnormal expression levels in AML, including the Wilms tumor gene, the PRAME gene and Ig/TCR rearrangements. Most of these genetic abnormalities can be detected by qualitative but more importantly by quantitative RT-PCR. The kinetics of disappearance of molecular markers in AML differs between the various types of leukemias, although at least a 2 log reduction of transcript after induction chemotherapy is necessary for long-term remission in all types. Conversely, the change of PCR from negativity to positivity is highly predictive of relapse. Whereas in acute lymphoblastic leukemia, multiparametric flow cytometry is an established method for MRD detection, this is less so in AML. The reason is the absence of well-characterized leukemia-specific antigens and the existence of phenotypic changes at relapse. On the other hand, this method is convenient due to its simplicity and universal applicability. In conclusion, several methods can be used for MRD detection in AML patients; each has its pros and cons. Several issues still remain to be settled including the choice of the best method and the timing for MRD monitoring and above all the practical clinical implications of MRD in the various types of AML.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-54
Number of pages15
JournalActa Haematologica
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2004


  • AML
  • Cytogenetics
  • FISH
  • MRD
  • RT-PCR


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