Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) frequently relapses after complete remission (CR), necessitating improved detection and phenotypic characterization of treatment-resistant residual disease. In this work, we have optimized droplet digital PCR to broadly measure mutated alleles of recurrently mutated genes in CR marrows of AML patients at levels as low as 0.002% variant allele frequency. Most gene mutations persisted in CR, albeit at highly variable and gene-dependent levels. The majority of AML cases demonstrated residual aberrant oligoclonal hematopoiesis. Importantly, we detected very rare cells (as few as 1 in 15,000) that were genomically similar to the dominant blast populations at diagnosis and were fully clonally represented at relapse, identifying these rare cells as one common source of AML relapse. Clinically, the mutant allele burden was associated with overall survival in AML, and our findings narrow the repertoire of gene mutations useful in minimal residual disease–based prognostication in AML. Overall, this work delineates rare cell populations that cause AML relapse, with direct implications for AML research directions and strategies to improve AML therapies and outcome.
Brian Parkin, Angelina Londoño-Joshi, Qing Kang, Muneesh Tewari, Andrew D. Rhim, Sami N. Malek