The patterns of fetal haemoglobin production in leukaemia.
Sheridan BL., Weatherall DJ., Clegg JB., Pritchard J., Wood WG., Callender ST., Durrant IJ., McWhirter WR., Ali M., Partridge JW., Thompson EN.
Elevated levels of haemoglobin F (Hb F) have been foudn in a wide range of haematological malignancies, but very high levels were found only in juvenile chronic myeloid leukaemia (JCML), and erythroleukaemia occurring in infancy. In both these disorders a reversion to a fetal form of erythropoiesis may occur, as judged by both the structure of the Hb F and by the disappearance of Hb A2 and the carbnoic-anhydrase isozymes during the course of the illness. The clinical picture of JCML is not always associated with a reversion to fetal erythropoiesis; there appears to be a heterogeneity of conditions with this clinical label. Thus the reversion to a completely fetal pattern of erythropoiesis seems to occur in a variety of leukaemias which start in early life. This change is associated with a uniformly bad prognosis. Of a group of 17 patients with acute myeloid leukaemia 15 developed an increase in the level of Hb F about 60 days after the commencement of treatment; significantly greater increases were observed in those achieving a clinical remission. The level of Hb F usually declined during remission but high levels persisted in a few cases. Increased levels of Hb F were found also in patients with other haematological malignancies who had undergone periods of marrow aplasia during treatment. In all cases the Hb F was heterogeneously distributed throughout the red cells. Analysis of gamma15 or gammaCB3 peptides of Hb F from a variety of leukaemias gave glycine compositions ranging from 0.20 to 0.85 residues with many values in the fetal range; all cases with a reversion to fetal erythropoiesis had values in the fetal range. Attempts to confirm the 'fetal' origin of the cells containing Hb F by means of other markers was possible only in the cases of JCML and in one child with erythroleukaemia. These studies indicate that in some forms of leukaemia there may be a genuine reversion to fetal erythropoiesis while in others the emergence of cells containing Hb F appears to be part of a rapid regeneration process occurring after a period of marrow aplasia. The diagnostic and prognostic value of these observations is discussed.