Purpose: Methotrexate (MTX) can cause significant clinical neurotoxicity and asymptomatic leukoencephalopathy. We sought to identify clinical, pharmacokinetic, and genetic risk factors for these MTX-related toxicities during childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) therapy and provide data on safety of intrathecal and high-dose MTX rechallenge in patients with neurotoxicity.
Patients and methods: Prospective brain magnetic resonance imaging was performed at four time points for 369 children with ALL treated in a contemporary study that included five courses of high-dose MTX and 13 to 25 doses of triple intrathecal therapy. Logistic regression modeling was used to evaluate clinical and pharmacokinetic factors, and a genome-wide association study (GWAS) was performed to identify germline polymorphisms for their association with neurotoxicities.
Results: Fourteen patients (3.8%) developed MTX-related clinical neurotoxicity. Of 13 patients rechallenged with intrathecal and/or high-dose MTX, 12 did not experience recurrence of neurotoxicity. Leukoencephalopathy was found in 73 (20.6%) of 355 asymptomatic patients and in all symptomatic patients and persisted in 74% of asymptomatic and 58% of symptomatic patients at the end of therapy. A high 42-hour plasma MTX to leucovorin ratio (measure of MTX exposure) was associated with increased risk of leukoencephalopathy in multivariable analysis (P = .038). GWAS revealed polymorphisms in genes enriched for neurodevelopmental pathways with plausible mechanistic roles in neurotoxicity.
Conclusion: MTX-related clinical neurotoxicity is transient, and most patients can receive subsequent MTX without recurrence of acute or subacute symptoms. All symptomatic patients and one in five asymptomatic patients develop leukoencephalopathy that can persist until the end of therapy. Polymorphisms in genes related to neurogenesis may contribute to susceptibility to MTX-related neurotoxicity.