Multiparameter flow cytometry applications in the diagnosis of mixed phenotype acute leukemia

Cytometry B Clin Cytom. 2019 May;96(3):183-194. doi: 10.1002/cyto.b.21783. Epub 2019 Apr 29.


Mixed phenotype acute leukemias (MPALs) represent a rare subgroup of acute leukemias with a poor prognosis. Proper diagnosis and classification of MPAL is extremely important for patients' outcome. Morphology and flow cytometry recognize two types of MPAL: the "bilineal" MPAL with the coexistence of two blast populations of different lineage and truly "biphenotypic" MPAL coexpressing markers of more than one lineage in a homogenous blast population, respectively. The WHO 2008 classification further delineated three categories: associated with t(9;22)/BCR-ABL1 fusion gene, associated with KMT2A (mixed lineage leukemia) rearrangements, and nonotherwise specified. These categories remained unchanged in the WHO2016 update. Molecular studies have further underlined the heterogeneity of MPAL. In this review, rules for the correct assignment of acute leukemia to the MPAL category are discussed, including both flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry on bone marrow or other tissues biopsies. Comparison of the immunophenotypic classification proposals is provided outlining the explorations mandatory for definitive diagnosis. An extensive review of published data summarizes the reported cytogenetic and molecular anomalies. New developments in the understanding of the early stages of hematopoiesis provide clues to the possible etiopathology of these diseases. Finally, current treatment recommendations are summarized and referenced for clinical use, pointing out that allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation at an early stage should be considered (at least in adult patients). © 2019 International Clinical Cytometry Society.

Keywords: ambiguous lineage; flow cytometry; leukemia; mixed phenotype.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antigens, CD / genetics
  • Antigens, CD / immunology
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / immunology
  • Bone Marrow Cells / classification
  • Bone Marrow Cells / immunology
  • Bone Marrow Cells / pathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Flow Cytometry / instrumentation
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Fusion Proteins, bcr-abl / genetics*
  • Fusion Proteins, bcr-abl / immunology
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase / genetics*
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Immunophenotyping / instrumentation
  • Immunophenotyping / methods*
  • Leukemia, Biphenotypic, Acute / classification
  • Leukemia, Biphenotypic, Acute / diagnosis*
  • Leukemia, Biphenotypic, Acute / pathology
  • Leukemia, Biphenotypic, Acute / therapy
  • Myeloid-Lymphoid Leukemia Protein / genetics*
  • Myeloid-Lymphoid Leukemia Protein / immunology
  • Prognosis
  • Translocation, Genetic
  • Transplantation, Homologous


  • Antigens, CD
  • BCR-ABL1 fusion protein, human
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • KMT2A protein, human
  • Myeloid-Lymphoid Leukemia Protein
  • Histone-Lysine N-Methyltransferase
  • Fusion Proteins, bcr-abl