Cell proliferation rates of diagnostic marrow aspirate cells of 21 children with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia and 16 controls were compared using immunocytochemical labelling of PCNA and Ki-67 antigen as assessed by Confocal Laser Scanning Microscopy.

The results showed an unexpected, highly significant degree of dissociation between PCNA and Ki-67 expression in ALL blasts. The PCNA labelling indices of ALL patients were significantly increased (mean 44, range 24-77) compared with normal reactive marrow cells (mean 13.8, range 4-26) (p<0.000001, Mann Whitney U two tailed test), suggesting an abnormal commitment to proliferation. Ki-67 expression was raised to a lesser extent in ALL cells (mean 14.8, range 1.2-35) when compared to non-malignant proliferations (mean 6.6, range 1.7-25) (p < 0.02). PCNA/Ki-67 LI ratios in ALL (mean 7, range 1.1-35) were higher than in controls (mean 2.7, range 1.04-6.5, p<0.09).

As cell proliferation rates actually achieved in the bone marrow do not differ as strongly as suggested by the extreme difference in PCNA labelling, a pathological dissociation of PCNA / Ki-67 expression exists, suggesting immortalisation.