Pretreatment marrow blast cells were studied in 38 boys and 27 girls (aged 1-14) with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia by flow cytometry after staining with propidium iodide.
The percentage of blast cells in the S phase of the cell cycle ranged from 1% to 40% (median 6%). A correlation was found between the percentage of cells in S and the morphological classification of the French American British Cooperative Group (FAB), presence of T or B cell markers, haemoglobin concentration, blast size, bone pain, platelet count, and an inverse correlation with coarse granule and block staining with Periodic-acid-Schiff (PAS).
63 of the 65 children attained complete remission. During the first 24 months of follow up there were fewer relapses (P = 0·054), and deaths (P = 0·004) in those children with 6% or fewer blasts in S phase. The difference was most marked in the first 12 months with 4 relapses out of 33 in the group with 6% or fewer cells in S compared with 13/30 in the group with > 6% cells in S.
In order to investigate the prognostic significance of the pretreatment proliferative studies in greater detail, remission duration was correlated with 17 presenting features. Each feature was correlated individually and then the simultaneous effect of all the features was assessed by stepwise multiple regression.
Only 3 features of the disease at diagnosis were individually correlated with duration of remission. These were% cells in S (P < 0·001), log white cell blood count (WBC) (P < 0·01) and the presence of T- or B-cell surface markers (P < 0·05). However, the multiple regression analysis showed that cell markers were not an independent prognostic feature, whereas the percentage cells in S and log WBC were independently and significantly correlated with duration of first remission (P < 0·001 in each case).