Arsenic trioxide (As2O3) effectively induces remissions in relapsed acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL), but the safety of its long-term administration is unknown. The anthracycline idarubicin is highly active alone or in combination chemotherapy for the treatment of APL. To minimize arsenic exposure and based on the high sensitivity of APL cells to anthracyclines, we conducted a prospective study to evaluate induction with As2O3 followed by consolidation with idarubicin in the treatment of APL in relapse. Eight patients were treated with As2O3 at a daily dose of 10 mg until remission, followed by three monthly courses of idarubicin, at 6 mg/m(2)/day for 5 days in the first course and 6 mg/m(2)/day for 2 days in the subsequent two courses. All patients achieved morphological but not molecular remission after As2O3 treatment. During As2O3 therapy, an increase in white cell count peaking at a median of 17 days occurred in all the cases. Serial flow cytometric analysis of apoptosis, with mitochondrial APO2.7 antigen expression and the sub-G1 cell fraction on DNA histogram as markers, showed induction of apoptosis of APL cells in vivo. With both qualitative and real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction, all patients were shown to attain molecular remission after subsequent idarubicin treatment. With a median follow up of 13 months, seven of eight patients have remained in complete clinical remission, with six patients in molecular remission as well. One patient who was in third remission became PCR-positive after being transiently negative. One patient died from an intracranial extramedullary relapse after achieving marrow molecular remission. We conclude that As2O3 induction followed by idarubicin consolidation is an effective therapy for APL in relapse. This regimen avoids the possible long-term toxicities of As2O3 and mutagenicity of combination chemotherapy, a strategy that might be suitable for this potentially curable leukaemia.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.