Preventing relapse after haematopoietic stem cell transplantation for acute leukaemia: the role of post-transplantation minimal residual disease (MRD) monitoring and MRD-directed intervention.

Relapse is the main cause of treatment failure after allogeneic haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (allo-HSCT) for acute leukaemia (AL). Post-transplantation minimal residual disease (MRD) monitoring enables risk stratification and identifies AL patients at higher risk of relapse. MRD assessment primarily involves the determination of leukaemia-associated immunophenotypic patterns using multiparameter flow cytometry, and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based evaluation of expression levels of leukaemia-related genes (specific reciprocal gene rearrangements and other mutation types). In addition, next generation sequencing and digital PCR may further enrich current MRD detection. Several MRD-directed interventions have demonstrated the ability to reduce the risk of relapse with acceptable treatment-related toxicities. Donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI) is the most important intervention for MRD-positive patients, while several modified strategies, such as granulocyte colony-stimulating factor-mobilized peripheral blood cells followed by short term immune suppression and escalating dose regimen, further improve the safety and efficacy of DLI. Interferon therapy, targeted drugs, and hypomethylating agents have also been introduced for MRD-directed interventions. Referring to the issues of whether and who would benefit from pre-emptive intervention according to MRD, in this review, we summarized this rapidly evolving area of MRD monitoring and MRD-directed interventions in AL patients after allo-HSCT.

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