Persistence of pre-leukemic clones during first remission and risk of relapse in acute myeloid leukemia
Some patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) who are in complete remission after induction chemotherapy harbor persisting pre-leukemic clones, carrying a subset of leukemia-associated somatic mutations. There is conflicting evidence on the prognostic relevance of these clones for AML relapse. Here, we characterized paired pre-treatment and remission samples from 126 AML patients for mutations in 68 leukemia-associated genes. Fifty patients (40%) retained ⩾1 mutation during remission at a variant allele frequency of ⩾2%. Mutation persistence was most frequent in DNMT3A (65% of patients with mutations at diagnosis), SRSF2 (64%), TET2 (55%), and ASXL1 (46%), and significantly associated with older age (P<0.0001) and, in multivariate analyses adjusting for age, genetic risk, and allogeneic transplantation, with inferior relapse-free survival (hazard ratio, 2.34; P=0039) and overall survival (hazard ratio, 2.14; P=036). Patients with persisting mutations had a higher cumulative incidence of relapse before, but not after allogeneic stem cell transplantation. Our work underlines the relevance of mutation persistence during first remission as a novel risk factor in AML. Persistence of pre-leukemic clones may contribute to the inferior outcome of elderly AML patients. Allogeneic transplantation abrogated the increased relapse risk associated with persisting pre-leukemic clones, suggesting that mutation persistence may guide postremission treatment.