Technical aspects and clinical applications of measuring BCR-ABL1 transcripts number in chronic myeloid leukemia


  • Conflict of interest: Nothing to report.


Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is a myeloproliferative disorder characterized by a triphasic clinical course, the morphologic expansion of a terminally differentiated myeloid cell and the presence of the BCR-ABL1 fusion gene, the hallmark of CML. The fusion gene is usually, but not always, associated with a Philadelphia chromosome, the result of a reciprocal exchange of genetic material between chromosome 22 and chromosome 9, which leads to the production of the activated BCR-ABL1 gene and oncoprotein. The breakpoint in the BCR gene occurs commonly downstream of exons e13 or e14 (M-BCR) and less frequently downstream of exons e1 and e2 (m-BCR). Less than 1% of cases carry a breakpoint downstream of exon 6 or 8 (“variant fusion genes”) or exon 19 (μ-BCR). Breakpoints in the ABL1 gene cluster upstream of exon a2 (or of exon a3 in less than 5% of patients with CML). Conventional cytogenetic, fluorescence in situ hybridization, and molecular testing for the BCR-ABL1 fusion gene are key investigations for the diagnosis and monitoring of CML. Treatment using tyrosine kinase inhibitors has revolutionized the management of CML with hematologic and cytogenetic response within 12–18 months observed in >85% of patients. Nevertheless, between 15 and 20% of patients may evolve to blastic phase. Measurement of low level or “minimal” residual disease using molecular tests is becoming the gold-standard approach to measure response to therapy due to its higher sensitivity compared to other routine techniques. The technical aspects and clinical applications of molecular monitoring will be the main focus of this article. Am. J. Hematol., 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.