The success of allogeneic bone marrow transplantation (allo-BMT) is affected by underlying disease relapse. Although mixed chimerism (MC) is not necessarily a poor prognostic factor, several groups have suggested that MC is associated with an increased risk of disease relapse. There is evidence that patients with MC benefit from additional immunotherapy if the treatment is started in minimal residual disease status (mixed chimerism status), not in frank hematological relapse. The purposes of this study are to evaluate 1) the risk for relapse or graft rejection in correlation to persistent MC status after allo-BMT, and 2) the possibility of preventing relapse by immune modulation treatments (withdrawal or rapid taper-off of post-transplant immuno-suppression, additional interferon treatment, or the administration of donor lymphocytes) in hematologic malignancies.
Patients and Methods
Of 337 allogeneic donor-recipient pairs between March 1996 and August 1998, 12 patients who showed persistent or progressive MC and who received immune modulation treatments were evaluated. Twelve patients, median age 31 years (range 9 to 39 years), received an allo-BMT for: acute myelogenous leukemia (AML, n = 5), chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML, n = 4), acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL, n = 3). Serial polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis of YNZ 22-, 33.6-minisatellites or Y chromosome-specific PCR analysis at short term intervals (pre-and post-transplant 1, 3, 6, 9, … months) was performed. Once MC was detected, immune modulation treatments on the basis of increasing MC in an early phase of recurrence of underlying disease were started.
Nine of 12 patients converted to complete chimerism (CC) (AML 5/5, CML 3/4, ALL 1/3). Four of 9 CC patients developed graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) grade ≤2 during immune modulation. All were treated successfully with steroids. Three patients who were not converted to CC showed relapse of underlying diseases or graft failure.
The results demonstrate that, in patients with hematologic malignancies after allo-BMT, persistent MC is associated with relapse of underlying diseases or graft failure. Furthermore, when patients receive early immune modulation treatment, MC can be changed to complete donor pattern chimerism and ultimately prevent relapse.