Relapse following remission induction chemotherapy remains a barrier to survival in approximately 20% of children suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). To investigate the mechanism of relapse, 27 matched diagnosis and relapse ALL samples were analyzed for clonal populations using polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based detection of multiple antigen receptor gene rearrangements. These clonal markers revealed the emergence of apparently new populations at relapse in 13 patients. More sensitive clone-specific PCR revealed that, in 8 cases, these "relapse clones" were present at diagnosis and a significant relationship existed between presence of the relapse clone at diagnosis and time to first relapse (P < .007). Furthermore, in cases where the relapse clone could be quantified, time to first relapse was dependent on the amount of the relapse clone at diagnosis (r = -0.84; P =.018). This observation, together with demonstrated differential chemosensitivity between subclones at diagnosis, argues against therapy-induced acquired resistance as the mechanism of relapse in the informative patients. Instead these data indicate that relapse in ALL patients may commonly involve selection of a minor intrinsically resistant subclone that is undetectable by routine PCR-based methods. Relapse prediction may be improved with strategies to detect minor potentially resistant subclones early during treatment, hence allowing intensification of therapy.
Choi, S., Henderson, M. J., Kwan, E., Beesley, A., Sutton, R., Bahar, A. Y., Giles, J., Venn, N. C., Dalla Pozza, L., Baker, D. L., Marshall, G. M., Kees, U., Haber, M., & Norris, M. D. (2007). Relapse in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia involving selection of a preexisting drug-resistant subclone. Blood, 110(2), 632-639. https://doi.org/10.1182/blood-2007-01-067785