• acute lymphoblastic leukaemia;
  • allogeneic transplantation;
  • MRD

Summary. In this study, we used multiparameter flow cytometry to quantify minimal residual disease (MRD) in 165 serial bone marrow samples from 40 patients diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) who underwent allogeneic stem cell transplantation (allo-SCT) from siblings (n = 34) or unrelated donors (n = 6). Samples were prospectively taken from 24 patients before starting the conditioning regimen, at days +30, +60 and +90 and subsequently every 2–3 months. Samples from 16 patients in complete remission (CR) after allo-SCT were taken at least twice. Six of 24 patients harboured MRD (0·2–10% of mononuclear cells) at transplant and 18 were negative. Estimated disease-free survival for the MRD+ and MRD– groups at transplant was 33·3% and 73·5% respectively (P = 0·03). During follow-up, increasing MRD levels were detected in nine patients, a finding that preceded marrow relapse by 1–6 months. Two patients with stable low MRD levels remained in CR. When we used flow cytometry to test the effect of donor leucocyte infusions (DLI) in six patients, we observed that the only sustained remission was achieved when DLI was applied prior to overt relapse. We conclude that MRD by flow cytometry can rapidly assess tumoral burden before transplant to predict outcome, and can be clinically useful for the timing of DLI for increasing levels of leukaemia after transplant.