Significance of molecular quantification of minimal residual disease in metastatic neuroblastoma

J Hematother Stem Cell Res. 2003 Aug;12(4):435-42. doi: 10.1089/152581603322286060.


Molecular detection of tumor cells is the most sensitive approach to study residual disease in bone marrow (BM), peripheral blood (PB), and peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) autografts from children with metastatic neuroblastoma (NB). We have developed a real-time PCR assay that allows the quantification of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) mRNA, a tissue-specific marker of neuroblasts. We investigated a total of 165 BM, PB, and PBSC samples from 30 children over 1 year of age with stage IV NB and correlated the findings with disease status and patient survival. The levels of TH mRNA agreed well with clinical status and were significantly different across the groups that included samples obtained from patients at diagnosis, after three cycles of chemotherapy, in complete or very good partial remission and at relapse. We found that overall survival was significantly worse for patients with >1000 TH copies in BM after initial chemotherapy (p=0.0075). In 57% of cases, autologous PBSC harvests were found to be contaminated by neuroblasts, the level of TH >500 copies being associated with a decreased survival (p=0.003). In addition, molecular quantification enabled an estimation of tumor depletion in contaminated autografts using CD34 selection (median, 3 logs). In conclusion, quantification of minimal residual disease in metastatic NB using real-time RT-PCR for TH mRNA appears to be of potential clinical value. Further studies are needed to ascertain prognostic implications of molecular analysis of residual disease.

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, CD34 / biosynthesis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Bone Marrow Cells / metabolism
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neuroblastoma / diagnosis*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Prognosis
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Recurrence
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Time Factors
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / biosynthesis*


  • Antigens, CD34
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase