Impact of residual normal metaphases in core binding factor acute myeloid leukemia




Karyotype allows for stratification of outcomes in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients. Previous data suggested that the presence of residual normal cells improved the prognosis in patients with monosomy 7. The Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) reported the impact of residual normal metaphases in AML patients with monosomal karyotype (MK) and found a similar relationship. We determined the influence of residual normal metaphases in patients with core binding factor (CBF) AML.


The presence and total number of normal and abnormal metaphases were tallied for patients with CBF AML treated in 10 consecutive SWOG trials and used as a variable to determine the effect on complete remission, refractory disease, and overall survival (OS) rates.


Among 113 CBF AML patients, median age of diagnosis was 45 years (range, 18-77 years), and median OS was 4 years (CI—2 years—not reached). Patients with inv(16) and no normal metaphases had improved OS compared with those with 1+ normal metaphases (P = .00005), whereas no difference was noted for patients with t(8;21). Multivariate analysis demonstrated that having cells with a normal karyotype had a negative impact on survival (HR, 2.11; 95% CI, 1.09-4.08; P = .026). This shorter survival was a consequence of a higher rate of refractory disease in older patients (OR, 1.03; 95% CI, 0.9998-1.06; P = .05) and in those with normal metaphases (HR, 1.26 95% CI, 1.04-1.51; P = .02).


In patients with CBF AML, the presence of cells with normal metaphases and increasing age negatively affect the prognosis, especially in patients with inv(16). Cancer 2012;. © 2011 American Cancer Society.

Cytogenetic evaluation is one of the most important prognostic tools in acute myeloid leukemia (AML).1-4 In patients less than 60 years old, core binding factor (CBF) translocations are present in 15%-20% of cases and predict a favorable prognosis.1-3 Previous observations have suggested variability in the outcome in patients within this distinct cytogenetic group. For example, data from the Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) and Cancer and Leukemia B Group (CALGB) demonstrated that patients with CBF AML who also have complex cytogenetics do considerably worse, whereas those with inv(16) accompanied by +22 appear to have a more favorable outcome.5, 6 Meanwhile, refinement of the original Medical Research Council (MRC) data set showed that the presence of additional cytogenetic abnormalities had no impact on the survival of patients with t(8;21) and confirmed that patients with inv(16)/t(16;16) and additional karyotypic abnormalities, in particular +22, had a particularly favorable prognosis.4 Estey et al showed that patients with monosomy 7 but with some residual normal metaphases had better outcomes than patients with monosomy 7 but without normal metaphases,7 and similar findings were recently demonstrated in AML patients with a monosomal karyotype (MK).8 Here we investigated the impact of normal metaphases on CBF AML patients treated in SWOG clinical trials.



We used data from 1344 patients with previously untreated AML enrolled between 1986 and 2009 in 1 of 10 successive SWOG clinical trials (S8600, S9031, S9034, S9126, S9333, S9500, S9617, S9918, S0106, and S0112).9 Centrally reviewed and approved cytogenetic data from diagnosis was used for identification of patients with CBF AML. Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in this study, and research was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. Induction therapies were grouped into (1) those with “standard” doses of cytarabine (100 mg/m2 daily × 7 days), (2) those with higher than “standard” doses of cytarabine (typically at least 1 g/m2 per dose), and (3) those without cytarabine. For patients achieving complete remission, consolidation therapy varied based on protocol design. Of the 82 patients who achieved complete remission, 71 received protocol consolidation therapy. Of these 71 patients, 57 received standard-dose cytarabine during consolidation (53 received standard-dose cytarabine during induction, and 4 had no cytarabine during induction), and 14 received high-dose cytarabine during induction (9 received the standard dose during induction, and 5 received a high dose during induction).


Cytogenetic abnormalities were considered clonal if at least 2 metaphases had the same aberration in case of a structural abnormality or an extra chromosome or if at least 3 shared the same abnormality in case of a monosomy. The total number of normal and abnormal metaphases was tallied for each patient. Importantly, different culturing methods prior to G-banding metaphase preparation can result in variation in the proportion of normal versus abnormal cells. The central review process of the SWOG cytogenetics largely ensured proper culturing conditions for all patient samples in the study and hence the reliability of the comparison. No variability was noted in the distribution of normal metaphases in different studies. Complete remission (CR) was defined as bone marrow blasts < 5%, the absence of blasts with Auer rods, the absence of extramedullary disease, absolute neutrophil count > 1.0 × 109/L (1000/μL), platelet count > 100 × 109/L (100 000/μL), and independence of red cell transfusions. Complete remission with incomplete platelet recovery was not consistently captured in all studies and therefore not included in the analysis. Death during induction (early death, ED) was defined as death within 28 days of initiating therapy. Refractory disease (RD) was defined as patients alive past 28 days of initiating therapy who nonetheless never achieved CR or who relapsed within 1 year of achieving CR. Relapse-free survival (RFS) was calculated for patients who achieved CR from the date of CR to the date of the first of progression or death and was censored at the data of last contact for patients last known to be alive without progression. Overall survival (OS) was calculated from the date from registration into the study until death from any cause and was censored at the date of last contact for patients last known to be alive. Fisher's exact test was used to compare proportions. Survival curves were estimated using the Kaplan-Meier method and compared using the log-rank test. Association of relapse risk with the covariates age, sex, total white blood cell count (WBC) and peripheral blast count at presentation, and number of normal or abnormal cells was examined using proportional hazards regression models (for the outcome OS) and logistic regression models (for the outcomes CR, ED, and RD). The significance level for these analyses was ≤.05.


Baseline Characteristics

A total of 113 of the 1344 patients (8%) were classified as CBF AML and had complete covariate information (41 CBF patients did not have complete covariate information and were excluded from further analysis). No differences in the rates of CR, ED, RD, or OS were noted between the patients with complete covariates compared with those whose covariates were not available. Of these, 67 patients had inv(16), 59%, and 46 patients had t(8,21), 41%. The median age was 45 years, with a range of 18-78 years; 80% received induction with standard-dose cytarabine (SDAC), 13% with high-dose cytarabine (HDAC), whereas the remaining 7% were treated with non-cytarabine-containing (no-AC) regimens. The complete remission rate was similar in patients treated with on SDAC, HDAC, and no-AC regimens (78%, 53%, and 57%, respectively; P = .06). Similarly, no differences in induction mortality (ED) or RD were noted. An increasing number of normal metaphases was associated with decreased RFS in CBF patients (P = .02), but there was no significant difference between RFS in inv(16) and t(8;21) when controlling for number of normal metaphases (P = .57). Median survival for the entire cohort of 113 CBF AML patients was 4 years (95% confidence interval, 2 years-). No differences in OS at 4 years were noted in patients receiving cytarabine-containing regimens, but 4-year OS was lower in patients receiving no-AC induction (SDAC, 57%; HADC, 53%; no-AC, 13%; P = .001).

Distribution of Metaphases in CBF AML

The presence of 1 or more normal metaphases was detected in 35% of CBF AML patients and ranged from 1 of 20 cells to 20 of 22 cells. However, the proportion of patients with at least 1 normal metaphase was smaller in inv(16) patients than in t(8;21) patients (18 of 67 [27%] vs 22 of 46 [48%]; P = .03). The effect of having at least 1 normal metaphase differed in t(8;21) and inv(16). Thus, among t(8,21) patients, the presence of 0 versus 1 or more normal metaphases had no significant impact on survival (unadjusted P = .02), whereas patients with inv(16) and 1 or more normal metaphases were noted to have a significantly worse survival than inv(16) patients with an absence of normal metaphases (unadjusted P = .00005; see Fig. 1). There was no evidence that the presence of 1 or more normal metaphases was associated with CR, ED, or RD in either inv(16) or t(8;21) patients (see Table 1).

Figure 1.

Overall survival.

Table 1. Incidence of CR, ED, and RD among CBF AML Patients According to the Presence or Absence of Normal Metaphases
 0 Normal Metaphases (n=73)1 or More Normal Metaphases (n=40)
 t(8;21) (n=24)Inv(16) (n=49)Allt(8;21) (n=22)Inv(16) (n=18)All
  1. CR, complete remission; ED, early death; RD, refractory disease.


Regression Analysis of Number of Normal Metaphases

Given the results shown in Figure 1, we used regression models to investigate the association between number of normal cells and outcomes. Among t(8;21) patients, there was no association between number of normal cells and OS (hazard ratio [HR], 1.01; 95% CI, 0.93-1.11; P = .69). However, among inv(16) patients, an increased number of normal cells was associated with decreased OS (HR, 1.15; 95% CI, 1.07-1.24; P = .0003). There were no significant associations between number of normal metaphases and CR or ED, either in all CBF patients or in the subsets of t(8;21) and inv(16) patients. Among all CBF patients, increasing number of normal of normal metaphases was associated with increased risk of RD (odds ratio, 1.26; 95% CI, 1.04-1.51; P = .02) when controlling for number of abnormal metaphases, age, sex, WBC, and blasts (Table 2). There was no evidence that the association between number of normal metaphases and RD differed between t(8;21) and inv(16) patients when controlling for number of abnormal metaphases, age, sex, WBC, and blasts (P = .49).

Table 2. Multivariate Logistic Model for Number of Normal and Abnormal Cells and Refractory Disease Rate
CovariateOR95% CIP Value
  1. WBC, white blood cell count; OR, odds ratio; CI, confidence interval.

1 or More normal metaphases1.26(1.04-1.51).02
1 or More abnormal metaphases1.13(0.98-1.29).08
Sex (reference, female)1.76(0.72-4.26).21
Peripheral blasts1.02(0.997-1.05).08


The provocative results presented in this analysis confirm previous reports demonstrating significant differences between subgroups of patients with CBF AML (t[8;21] AML vs inv[16] AML). Specifically, in this study we found that inv(16) karyotypes are less likely to have any normal metaphases. Also, our results demonstrate that unlike AML patients with adverse risk cytogenetics (ie, monosomy 7 and MK),7, 8 an increasing number of cells with normal metaphases increases the risk of relapse and negatively affects survival in patients with inv(16) CBF AML: at least 1 normal metaphase had a significant impact on 5-year survival (60% vs 14%, P = .00005). These findings are likely a result of a higher rate of refractory disease (P = .02; Table 2), as the presence of 1 or more normal metaphases and age were the only independent variables associated with refractory disease in the logistic regression model.

Dose escalation of cytarabine in patients with CBF karyotypes significantly increases the duration of remission and likely cure rates.10 Retrospective data have shown that patients with the CBF karyotype treated with HDAC have superior 5-year relapse-free survivals compared with those patients with a normal karyotype,10 but the expected 5-year OS rate for CBF AML patients is still only 50%.5, 6 Therefore, a significant proportion of CBF AML patients have a high risk of relapse, and identifying pretreatment predictors of relapse could improve outcomes in these patients. Previously, the presence of +22 in patients with inv(16) and mutations in the c-Kit receptor was associated with better and worse outcomes, respectively.11 The presence of at least 1 normal metaphase may be an indicator of patients with higher relapse risk.

Reasons for this differential response and outcome are uncertain; however, the presence of normal metaphases, which appear to be intrinsically less sensitive to higher doses of cytarabine than leukemia blasts with CBF karyotypes, could identify patients with favorable-risk AML who have higher-risk refractory disease and consequently a higher risk of death. Conversely, in patients with monosomy 7 or MK AML, the presence of normal metaphases improved outcomes. As AML cells with complex and unfavorable karyotypes are clinically highly resistant to cytarabine, the presence of normal metaphases may identify patients with distinct leukemic clones that are more sensitive to conventional treatment.

In summary, data presented here potentially identify another subgroup of patients with CBF AML associated with refractory disease and poor outcomes. These surprising and provocative results in CBF AML undoubtedly should be confirmed independently by other groups.


The authors made no disclosures.