Myeloproliferative Neoplasm

Myeloproliferative neoplasm are a group of disorders characterized by bone marrow proliferation with increase in the number of blood cells. The proliferation my be limited to one cell line or may involve more than on cell line. They are distinct from acute leukaemia but carry the risk into evolving into leukaemia as a terminal event. This article discusses general aspects of myeloproliferative neoplasm. The disease entities will be discussed elsewhere.

Progressive myelofibrosis was the first myelroliferative neoplasm to be described. It was described by Gustav Heuck in 1879. This was followed by chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) by John Hughes Bennett in 1845, polycythaemia vera (PV) described by Louis Henri Vaquez in 1892 and essential thrombocytosis (ET) described by Emil Epstein in 1934. The term myeloproferative disease was coined by Dameshek in 1951 to describe seven conditions that he thought were manifestations of “proliferation of bone marrow to a hitherto undiscovered stimulus” (Blood 1951; 6:372-75). The seven conditions were chronic granulocytic leukaemia (now chronic myeloid leukaemia), polychthaemia vera, agnigeic myeloid metaplasia (now primary myelofibrosis), thrombocytosis (essential thrombocytosis), megakaryocytic leukaemia and erythroleukaemia (including DeGuglielmo’s syndrome). As the malignant nature of these disease was not apparent till recently they were referred to as myeloproliferative disorder. The recognistion of the neoplastic in nature of the diseases has resulted in the change in the name from myelproliferative disorder to myeloprlferative neoplasm.

The WHO 2016 classification of myeloproliferative neoplasm includes the following disease

  1. Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)
  2. Chronic neutrophilic leukaemia (CNL)
  3. Polycythaemia vera (PV)
  4. Progressive myelofibrosis (PMF)
  5. Essential thrombocytosis (ET)
  6. Chronic myeloproliferative neoplasm unclassified
  7. Chronic eosinophilia leukaemia NOS
Myeloproliferative disease

Pathogenesis of myeloproliferative diseases

Pathogenesis of Myeloproliferative Neoplasm

The bone marrow proliferates in response to an initiating event (see figure above). This event remains to be discovered. Bone marrow proliferation results in increased blood counts. Increase in erythrocytes results in polycythaemia and features of hyperviscosity. Increased leukocyte counts result in leukostasis. The leucocytes counts that can cause leukostasis are only seen in CML. Thrombocytosis increases the risk of thrombosis. With time a MPN disease progresses. Progression either results in blast transformation or myelofibrosis as the terminal event. CML is more likely to progress to blast crisis and non-CML MPNs to myelofibrosis. Splenomegaly is an early feature of CML. Spleen in enlarged because of infiltration of the spleen by neoplastic haemopoietic cells despite there being no myelofibrosis. In non-CML splenomegaly occurs late and is a result of extra-medullary haematopoiesis due to myelofibrosis.

Clinical Aspects og Myeloproliferative Neoplasm

The myeloproliferative disease have the following common features

  1. Clonal proliferation of bone marrow: The Philadelphia chromosome associated with CML was the first chromosomal abnormality associated with a malignancy. The Philadelphia chromosome is a t(9;22) translocation that results in the formation of the BCR-ABL1 fusion gene. It proved the clonal nature of CML. Mutations proving the clonality of non-CML myeloproliferative neoplasm have been discovered. These include the JAK2, MPL and CALR mutations found in PV, PMF and ET. CNL is characterised by mutations in CSF3R. These mutations are the “undiscovered stimulus” Dameshek wrote about.
  2. Increased Blood Counts: Myeloprolifarative neoplasm have increase leucocytes, erythrocytes and thrombocytes alone or in combinations.
  3. Splenomegaly: Splenomagaly is a future of all myeloproliferative neoplasm. It is most pronounced in CML and PMF. The underlying mechanisms of splenomegaly in the conditions are different. Patients with CML have infiltration. Some develop myelofibrosis. Massive splenomegaly in myeloproliferative neoplasm than CML indicated bone marrow fibrosis.
  4. Overlapping clinical features: The clinical features of myeloproliferative neoplasm overlap. Polycythaemia is only seen in PV. Leucocytosis is a feature of all conditions other than ET. The type of leucocytosis can distinguish entities. Exteme leucocytosis with premature myeloid forms points to CML. But all patients with CML do not have extreme leucocytosis. Neutrophilic leucocytosis is a feature of CNL. Thrombocytosis is a featured shared by myeloproliferative neoplasm. As discussed below myelofibrosis develops in all myeloproliferative diseases. All myeloproliferative neoplasia are at risk of transforming into acute leukaemia. Despite the use of BCR-ABL1 tyrosine kinase inhibitors the risk is of acute leukaemia transformation is highest for CML.
  5. Development of bone marrow fibrosis: As myeloproliferative neoplasia progress bone marrow fibrosis increases. Myelofibrosis develops fastest in progressive myelofibosis. CML often does not develop clinically evident fibrosis but transforms to acute leukaemia as a terminal event. Development of fibrosis results in pancytopenia. Once fibrosis sets in it is not possible to tell the nature of the pre-fibrotic myeloproliferative neoplasm.
  6. Transforamation to acute leukaemia: All myeloproliferative neoplasia have a risk of evolving to acute leukaemia. This is known as blast crisis. The risk is greatest in CML.
  7. A tendency for thrombosis: Myeloproliferative neoplasm increase the risk of thrombosis. The risk is highest in ET and PV.

Treatment of Myerloproliferative Neoplasm

The goals of therapy of myeloproliferative neoplasia are

  1. Prevention and treatment of complications of increased cell counts
  2. Prevention of progression of MPN
  3. Erradicating the malignant clone

Prevention and treatment of complications of increased cell counts

Acute complication of myeloproliferative neoplasia include Leukostasis hyperviscosity and thrombosis. Polycythaemia is addressed by phlebotomy. Leukostasis is treated by measures to reduce counts (see Hyperleukoytosis and leukocytosis). Thrombocytosis of ET is treated low dose aspirin with or without hydroxyurea. The exact combination depends on the diagnosis and the risk stratification. Low dose aspirin is administered to patients with PV and PMF as they are at risk of thrombosis.

Prevention of progression of MPN

The only MPN where progression can be retarded is CML. The use of BCR-ABL1 tyrosine kinase inhibitors (BCR-ABL1 TKI) like imatinib, nilotinib or dasatinib prevent progression. The longest results are available for imatinib. Eithty five percent of the patients are alive at 10 years compared to a median survival of 45.4 with busulifan and58.2 months with hydroxyurea (Blood. 1993 Jul 15;82(2):398-407).

Eradicating the malignant clone

Supression of the BCR-ABL1 positive clone does not result in eradication of the malignant clone. More than half the patients in deep remission have a relapse of CML in one year off stopping BCR-ABL1 TKI therapy. Allogenic stem cell transplant offers the only possibility of cure in CML. The safety and efficacy of BCR-ABL1 TKIs has reduced the role of allogenic stem cell transplant in CML. It is now used in patients who are poorly controlled with upfront BCR-ABL1 TKI therapy. Allogenic stem cell transplant may be used in selected patients with PV, ET and PMF but does not form a front line therapy.


The BCR-ABL1 Gene

CML Pathogenesis-600pxBCR-ABL1 is a fusion gene formed as a result of the t(9;22)(q34;q11) chromosomal translocation, the translocation that results in the formation of the Philadelphia chromosome. The Abelson murine leukaemia viral oncogene homolog 1 (ABL1) gene from 9q34 is translocated downstream to a region at 22q11 known as breakpoint cluster (BCR). The fusion gene encodes for a constitutionally active tyrosine kinase that has been shown to drive the expression chronic myeloid leukaemia phenotype. BCR-ABL1 gene has also been on implicated in the pathogens is of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and in rare cases of acute myeloid leukaemia. The gene has been targeted with unparalleled success by the first tyrosine kinase inhibitor approved in clinical practice, imatinib.

 Molecular Biology of BCR-ABL

The ABL1 proto-oncogene is located on chromosome 9 at q34. Chromosome 22 has the BCR gene at 22q11. The ABL1 gene translocated downstream to the BCR gene as a result of the t(9;22)(q34;q11) translocation. ABL1-BCR translocation also occurs and may express but is of no clinical significance.


Molecular Biology of CML

The BCR-ABL1 fusion gene and it’s variants

The breakpoint of the ABL1 gene may be upstream exon 1a, between exon 1a and 1b or downstream exon 1b but it is almost always upstream exon 2. With rare exceptions all transcripts of BCR1-ABL1 gene have exon 2-11 of the ABL1 gene. The BCR breakpoints are variable and determine the size as well as the pathogenic properties of the BCR-ABL1 gene.. The breakpoint on the BCR gene are clustered in three regions known major cluster, minor cluster and micro cluster (Table 1). Depending on the location of breakpoint  on the BCR gene three types of protein are synthesized. The p210 transcript is associated with CML and some patients with Philadelphia positive acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. The shorter p190 transcript is associated with philedelphia positive acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and some patients of chronic myeloid leukaemia. The CML that carry this mutation show monocytosis and have a more aggressive course. The p230 is the largest and the rarest of the BCR-ABL1 transcripts. It is associated with a more indolent course and is found in patients with the rare chronic neutrophilic leukaemia. Atypical transcripts e1a3, e13a3 and e6a2 have been described.

Table 1: The BCR-ABL1 fusion genes

 Major Cluster  Minor Cluster  Micro-Cluster
 Synonym M-Cluster m-cluster µ-cluster
Location exons 12-16 Between alternative exon 2, e2’ and e2 between exons e19 and e20
Protein p210 p190 p230
Associated Leukaemia  CML, e14a2 shown to have thrombocytosis in some studies., Ph+ ALL  Ph + ALL; CML that tends to have monocytosis and an agressive course  Chronic Neutrophilic Leukaemia, Small reports describing patients with a course resembling classical CML

Mutagenicity of BCR-ABL1

ABL1 is a nuclear kinase whose activity is tightly regulated by the cell. BCR-ABL1 translocation results loss of regulation and the kinase is  cosntitutively active. Sustitution of ABL1 at the N termnal by segments of the BCR gene result in the synthesis of a protein that has the capacity to dimerise. Dimerisation transphosphorylates and then aurtophsophorylates the the kinase fully activating it. The precise mechanism how BCR-ABL1 leads to chronic myeloid leukaemia is not known but activation of  phosphatidylinositol kinase, RAS/Mitogen activated protein kinase and JAK/STAT pathway has been demonstrated in BCR-ABL1 positive cells. These pathways are involved in cellular growth and differentiation. The BCR-ABL1 kinase also phosphorylates proteins involved in adhesion and migration and this may have a role in premature release of myeloid cells in circulation. CML cells have a two to sixfold increase in reactive oxygen species and have impaired DNA repair. Reactive oxygen species can induce DNA double strand breaks. The results is additional mutations and these are believed to be responsible for blast crisis and acclerates phase.

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors targeting the BCR-ABL1 protein induce a remission in most patients of CML. About half the patients who have achieved sustained complete molecular response relapse on discontinuation of the tyrosine kinase inhibitors. This suggests that the stemat least some CML stem cells are not BCR-ABL1 dependent for growth. Experimental observations support this hypothesis.

Targeting the BCR-ABL1 Gene

The BCR-ABL1 gene was the first gene to be targeted by a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, imatinib. Imatinib was followed by dasatinib, nilotinib, Busotinib and Panotinob. Imatanib, Dasatinib and Nilotinib are approved to first line use. Imatinib has resulted in a 85% 8 year survival. Dasatinib and nolitinib are active in imatinib resistant CML and are now approved for first line use. Drug resistance results from mutations in BCR-ABL1 kinase. The T315I mutation or the gatekeeper mutations impaires access of TKIs to the BCR-ABL1 kinase making most drugs inactive. Panotinib can inhibit the T315I mutation.


Further Reading

Barnes DJ Melo JV. Molecular Basis of Chronic Myleoid Leukaemia. In Chronic Myeloproliferative Disorders: Cytogenetic and Molecular Anomalies. Bain Barbra J (Ed) 2003.