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Keywords:

  • minimal residual disease;
  • minimal residual disease;
  • flow cytometry;
  • acute lymphoblastic leukemia;
  • acute myeloid leukemia

Abstract

Patients with acute leukemia in clinical remission may still have up to 1010 residual malignant cells (the upper limit of detection by standard morphologic techniques). Sensitive techniques to detect minimal residual disease (MRD) may allow better estimates of the leukemia burden and help the selection of appropriate therapeutic strategies. Flow cytometry and polymerase chain reaction have emerged as the most promising methods for detecting submicrospopic levels of leukemia. Flowcytometric detection of MRD is based on the identification of immunophenotypic combinations expressed on leukemic cells but not on normal hematopoietic cells. It affords the detection of one leukemic cell among 10,000 normal bone marrow cells, and can be currently applied to at least two thirds of all patients with acute leukemia. Prospective studies in large series of patients have demonstrated a strong correlation between MRD levels during clinical remission and treatment outcome. Therefore, MRD assays can be reliably used to assess early response to treatment and predict relapse. In this review, we discuss methodologic aspects and clinical results of flowcytometric detection of MRD in patients with acute leukemia. Cytometry (Comm. Clin. Cytometry) 38: 139–152, 1999.  © 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.