Early T-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ETP-ALL) has been identified as high-risk subgroup of acute T-lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) with a high rate of FLT3-mutations in adults. To unravel the underlying pathomechanisms and the clinical course we assessed molecular alterations and clinical characteristics in a large cohort of ETP-ALL (n = 68) in comparison to non-ETP T-ALL adult patients. Interestingly, we found a high rate of FLT3-mutations in ETP-ALL samples (n = 24, 35%). Furthermore, FLT3 mutated ETP-ALL was characterized by a specific immunophenotype (CD2+/CD5-/CD13+/CD33-), a distinct gene expression pattern (aberrant expression of IGFBP7, WT1, GATA3) and mutational status (absence of NOTCH1 mutations and a low frequency, 21%, of clonal TCR rearrangements). The observed low GATA3 expression and high WT1 expression in combination with lack of NOTCH1 mutations and a low rate of TCR rearrangements point to a leukemic transformation at the pluripotent prothymocyte stage in FLT3 mutated ETP-ALL. The clinical outcome in ETP-ALL patients was poor, but encouraging in those patients with allogeneic stem cell transplantation (3-year OS: 74%). To further explore the efficacy of targeted therapies, we demonstrate that T-ALL cell lines transfected with FLT3 expression constructs were particularly sensitive to tyrosine kinase inhibitors. In conclusion, FLT3 mutated ETP-ALL defines a molecular distinct stem cell like leukemic subtype. These data warrant clinical studies with the implementation of FLT3 inhibitors in addition to early allogeneic stem cell transplantation for this high risk subgroup.
Type of Publication:
Journal article published