Current views on the genetic landscape and management of variant acute promyelocytic leukemia

Biomark Res. 2021 May 6;9(1):33. doi: 10.1186/s40364-021-00284-x.


Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) is characterized by the accumulation of promyelocytes in bone marrow. More than 95% of patients with this disease belong to typical APL, which express PML-RARA and are sensitive to differentiation induction therapy containing all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) and arsenic trioxide (ATO), and they exhibit an excellent clinical outcome. Compared to typical APL, variant APL showed quite different aspects, and how to recognize, diagnose, and treat variant APL remained still challenged at present. Herein, we drew the genetic landscape of variant APL according to recent progresses, then discussed how they contributed to generate APL, and further shared our clinical experiences about variant APL treatment. In practice, when APL phenotype was exhibited but PML-RARA and t(15;17) were negative, variant APL needed to be considered, and fusion gene screen as well as RNA-sequencing should be displayed for making the diagnosis as soon as possible. Strikingly, we found that besides of RARA rearrangements, RARB or RARG rearrangements also generated the phenotype of APL. In addition, some MLL rearrangements, NPM1 rearrangements or others could also drove variant APL in absence of RARA/RARB/RARG rearrangements. These results indicated that one great heterogeneity existed in the genetics of variant APL. Among them, only NPM1-RARA, NUMA-RARA, FIP1L1-RARA, IRF2BP2-RARA, and TFG-RARA have been demonstrated to be sensitive to ATRA, so combined chemotherapy rather than differentiation induction therapy was the standard care for variant APL and these patients would benefit from the quick switch between them. If ATRA-sensitive RARA rearrangement was identified, ATRA could be added back for re-induction of differentiation. Through this review, we hoped to provide one integrated view on the genetic landscape of variant APL and helped to remove the barriers for managing this type of disease.

Keywords: Genetic landscape; Management; Variant acute promyelocytic leukemia.

Publication types

  • Review