Loss of mismatched HLA in leukemia after stem-cell transplantation

N Engl J Med. 2009 Jul 30;361(5):478-88. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa0811036.


Background: Transplantation of hematopoietic stem cells from partially matched family donors is a promising therapy for patients who have a hematologic cancer and are at high risk for relapse. The donor T-cell infusions associated with such transplantation can promote post-transplantation immune reconstitution and control residual disease.

Methods: We identified 43 patients who underwent haploidentical transplantation and infusion of donor T cells for acute myeloid leukemia or myelodysplastic syndrome and conducted post-transplantation studies that included morphologic examination of bone marrow, assessment of hematopoietic chimerism with the use of short-tandem-repeat amplification, and HLA typing. The genomic rearrangements in mutant variants of leukemia were studied with the use of genomic HLA typing, microsatellite mapping, and single-nucleotide-polymorphism arrays. The post-transplantation immune responses against the original cells and the mutated leukemic cells were analyzed with the use of mixed lymphocyte cultures.

Results: In 5 of 17 patients with leukemia relapse after haploidentical transplantation and infusion of donor T cells, we identified mutant variants of the original leukemic cells. In the mutant leukemic cells, the HLA haplotype that differed from the donor's haplotype had been lost because of acquired uniparental disomy of chromosome 6p. T cells from the donor and the patient after transplantation did not recognize the mutant leukemic cells, whereas the original leukemic cells taken at the time of diagnosis were efficiently recognized and killed.

Conclusions: After transplantation of haploidentical hematopoietic stem cells and infusion of donor T cells, leukemic cells can escape from the donor's antileukemic T cells through the loss of the mismatched HLA haplotype. This event leads to relapse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromosomes, Human, Pair 6
  • Graft vs Leukemia Effect / genetics*
  • Graft vs Leukemia Effect / immunology
  • HLA Antigens / genetics*
  • Haplotypes
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation*
  • Histocompatibility Testing*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / genetics
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / immunology
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / therapy*
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex
  • Mutation
  • Myelodysplastic Syndromes
  • Recurrence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Transplantation Chimera


  • HLA Antigens