Oral Iron Therapy

Iron deficiency anaemia is treated by iron supplementation that may be administered orally or parenterally.  Oral iron absorption is inefficient, is interfered by food and is associated with high incidence of gastrointestinal adverse effects. About 17% of the world population is estimated to be suffering from iron deficiency. Iron deficiency is more common the poorer regions of the world. These regions have limited resources allocated for healthcare. Oral iron is inexpensive and convenient to administer making it the modality of choice for initiation of treatment of iron deficiency. The availability of safer parenteral iron preparations that can replete the iron deficit in one dose has reduced the threshold of switching a person intolerant to iron to parenteral iron.

Oral Iron Absorption

Dietary iron may be heme iron or non-heme iron. Heme iron is absorbed after oxidation to hematin. The absorption of heme iron is more efficient. Dietary non-heme iron is present in the ferric state. Ferric iron is insoluble and needs to be reduced to ferrous iron. Gastric acidity aids this conversion. Medicinal iron is most often administered in the ferrous state. Ferrous iron tends to oxidize to ferric iron at physiological pH. Gastric acid lowers the pH and retards oxidation. The absorption of non-heme iron is aided by ascorbate, animal proteins, human milk, keto sugars, organics, amino acids that form soluble chelates and retarded by phytates present in grains and vegetables, dietary fibre, polyphemols present in tea, coffee and wine, phosphates and phosphoproteins present in egg yolk, bovine milk, calcium and zinc. For a detailed discussion on iron absorption see intestinal iron absorption. Preparations containing iron in the ferric state have a 3-4 fold lower bioavailability than ferrous iron preparations. Ferric iron is insoluble in the alkaline medium of the duodenum and needs to be converted to ferrous iron (ScientificWorldJournal. 2012; 2012: 846824).

Oral Iron Preperations

Oral iron preparations may be heme or non-heme. Heme iron is available as heme iron polymer. Non-heme iron may be in the ferrous or ferric form. Carbonyl is pure iron prepared from the decomposition of iron pentacarbonyl. The preparations are listed in the table below.


Preparations Iron Content
Ferrous Sulfate, anhydrous 30%
Ferrous Fumarate 33%
Ferrous Sulfate 20%
Ferrous carbonate, anhydrous 48%
Ferrous Gluconate 12%
Ferric Ammonium Citrate 18%
Ferric bisglycinate 20%
Ferric pyrophosphate 12%
Carbonyl iron ~100%
Heme-iron peptide 100%
Polysaccharide iron complex 100%

Indications of Oral Iron Therapy

Oral iron is indicated for prevention and treatment of iron deficiency anaemia. The rate of iron delivery is insufficient to provide iron when erythropoiesis is stimulated by erythrocyte stimulating agents like erythropoietin and darbepoetin. Oral iron should not be used for such patients.

Trial of Oral Iron Therapy

Serum ferritin is an indicator of total body iron. It is also an acute phase reactant. Low ferritin indicates iron deficiency. The traditional cutoff is 12ng/mL. At this cutoff the sensitivity of ferritin for the diagnosis of iron deficiency anaemia is only 25%. The sensitivity can be increased to 92% with a positive predictive value of 83% if a cutoff of 30ng/mL is used. A trial of oral iron may be given if other causes of anaemia are excluded.

Contraindications to Oral Iron Therapy

  1. Primary hemachromatosis: Primary hemochromatosis is a is absolute contraindication
  2. Peptic ulcer, regional enteritis, or ulcerative colitis can be exacerbated by oral iron.
  3. β-Thalassaemia trait is a relative contraindication. Some patients may develop iron overload. Patients should be given iron only if iron deficiency is established by laboratory investigation.

Failure of Oral Iron Therapy

  1. Failure to take prescribed medication: Oral iron therapy causes gastrointestinal adverse effects in a large proportion patients that are severe enough in some to discontinue therapy. A detailed history must be taken to ascertain that the patient has taken the prescribed dose.
  2. Incorrect or incomplete diagnosis: Iron deficiency anaemia is hypochromic microcytic (see Evaluating Anaemia). Other diseases that result in hypochromic microcytic anaemia are thalassaemia and anaemia of chronic disease. Both are common and can both be confused with iron deficiency as well as co-exist with iron deficiency. Thalassemia trait affects about 1.5% of the world population. About 1.4% of the population is estimated to have anaemia due to infection, inflammation or chronic renal disease (https://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2FS0140-6736(15)60692-4). Incidental occurrence of iron deficiency with thalassaemia trait or anaemia of chronic disease will result in an incomplete response to iron supplementation. Some inflammatory conditions e.g. ulcerative colitis cause blood loss. Blood loss may be seen due to use of non-steroidal inflammatory agents in patients with autoimmune arthritis. Anaemia in these patients shows an incomplete response to iron supplementation because part of the anaemia results from chronic inflammation.
  3. Insufficient amount or inappropriately taken oral iron: The ideal dose is 200mg of elemental iron taken 2 hours before or 1 hour after food. Food interferes with iron absorption but also relieves gastrointestinal adverse effects. Gastrointestinal adverse effects are related to dose. Prescriptions of oral iron may have an insufficient dose or may be administered after food to reduce gastrointestinal adverse effects. This results in an inappropriate haemoglobin response.
  4. Iron demand exceeding intake: Iron demand may exceed supply if there is continued blood loss or in patients where erythropoiesis is stimulated with an erythropoiesis stimulating agent like erythropoietin or darbepoietin. In both these situations the rate of oral iron absorption limits iron availability. These patients need intravenous iron.
  5. Malabsorption of iron: Food interferes with oral iron absorption. Ferrous iron is rapidly oxidised to ferric iron at physiological pH. Gastric acid reduces ferric iron to ferrous iron. Proton pump inhibitors, H2 antagonists, antacids and gastrectomy reduce acidity and can interfere with iron absorption. Iron malabsorption may be seen as part of a malabsorption syndrome. Iron deficiency refractory to iron is rare. Iron refractory iron deficiency anaemia is a disorder resulting from mutations in the TMPRSS6. This mutations results in increase hepcidin production which is sensed by the body as an iron repeated state. Iron is not absorbed despite iron deficiency. The patients do not respond to oral iron and shows a partial response to parenteral iron.


  1. Interaction of iron with food: The absorption of non-heme iron is affected by food (See Intestinal Iron Absorption).
    1. Foods enhancing iron absorption: Ascorbate, animal proteins, human milk, keto sugars, organics, amino acids that form soluble chelates with iron enhance absorption of non-heme iron.
    2. Inhibiting iron absorption: `Inhibitors of absorption of non-heme iron include
      1. Phytates present in grains and vegetables
      2. Dietary fibre
      3. Polypohenols present in tea, coffee and wine,
      4. Phosphates and phosphoproteins present in egg yolk, bovine milk
      5. Calcium and zinc.
  2. Drug-Iron interactions
    1. Iron decreases the absorption of ACE inhibitors, bisphosphonates, levodopa, levothyroxine, penicillamine, quinolone and tetracyclines
    2. The absorption of iron is decreased by drugs that reduce gastric pH. These include H2 antagonists(Cimetidine, ranitidine, famotidine), proton pump inhibitors (omeprazole, pantoprqzole, esomeprazole, lansoprazole, rabeprazole, etc), antacids and cholesterol lowering agents (Cholestyramine and Colestipol).


  1. Children: 3–6 mg/kg daily in 3 divided doses.
  2. Adult: Usual therapeutic dosage: 50–100 mg 3 times daily but a dose of 200mg produces the maximal results. A smaller dosages (e.g. 60–120 mg daily) may be given if patients are intolerant of oral iron, but response in such patients takes a longer time.

Side Effects Of Oral Iron

  1. Gastrointestinal: The commonest adverse effects of iron are gastrointestinal symptoms, including heartburn, nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea or constipation. These may be seen in up to a fifth of the patients. They can be reduced by decreasing the dose or taking iron after food. Taking iron with food can reduce the absorption by about 50%. Enteric coated preparation decrease the side effects by delaying the release of iron. Delaying release may bypass the duodenum that is the site of absorption of iron. The decrease in absorption is particularly marked in patients with aclorhydria as they can not dissolve the enteric coating. The stool of patients taking iron supplements may be discoloured black or green.
  2. Discolouration of teeth: Iron syrups may cause staining to teeth.
  3. Iron overload: Iron overload from oral iron therapy is rare. It has been described in patients with hemachromatosis and chronic haemolytic anaemias.
  4. Iron Poisoning: Iron poisoning usually occurs in children, particularly those younger than 5 years of age, because of accidental ingestion of medicinal iron. Children are likely to ingest these believing them to be candies.

Drugs and Eosinophilia

Drugs, prescription and non-prescription,  and nutritional supplements are a common cause of eosinophilia across the world. In regions with a low prevalence of parasitic infestations drugs are the leading cause of eosinophilia.

Clinical Spectrum of Drug Induced Eosinophilia

The spectrum of drug induced eosinophilia extends from an asymptomatic eosinophilia discovered on a routine haemogram to a a serious disorder like drug induced drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic syndromes (DRESS). Eosinophilia associated with specific organ complications includes

  1. Eosinophilic pulmonary infiltrates associated with the use of sulfadsalazine, nitrofurantoin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID)
  2. Acute interstitial nephritis with eosinophilia  associated with the use of semisynthetic penicillins, cephalosporins, NSAID, sulphonamides, phenytoin, cimetidine and allopurinol
  3. Eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS) presents with increased eosinophil counts associated with  severe myalgia, neuropathy, skin rash and multi-system complications. The cause of EMS is not known but L-tryptophan has been implemented.
  4. Drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms /Drug induced hypersensitivity syndrome (DRESS/DIHS): The syndrome is a form of delayed drug hypersensitivity the presents with fever lymphadenopathy and end organ damage. The spectrum of end-organ damage includes hepetitis, interstitial nephritis, pneumonitis and carditis. The drugs implicated in DRESS/DIHS include
    1. Anti-infective
      1. Antibiotics: Cephalosporins, doxycycline, fluoroquinolone, linezolid, metronidazole, nitrofurantoin, penicillins, tetracycline
      2. Sulfomaides: Sulfasalazine trimethoprim-sulfamethoxozole
      3. Sulfones: Dapsone
      4. Antiviral: Abacavir, Nevirapine
    2. Anti-epileptic: Carbamazepine, lamotrigine, phenobarbital, phenytoin, , valproate
    3. Anti-depressants: Amitriptyline, desimipramine, fluoxetine
    4. Anti-inflammatory: Diclofenac, ibuprofen, naproxen, piroxicam
    5. Antihypertensives: ACE inhibitors, β-blockers, hydrochlorthiazide
    6. Others:  Allopurinol, cyclosporine, ranitidine


The incriminating drug should be withdrawn in symptomatic patients. Asymptomatic eosinophilia does not necessitate discontinuation of therapy. If equally effective therapy is available it is preferable to stop therapy. If this is not the case the drug may be continued with careful monitoring for symptoms.

Clinical Features of Megaloblastic Anaemia

Megaloblastic anaemia is a macrocytic anaemia resulting from the deficiency of vitamin B12 or folic acid characterised by the presence of megaloblasts in the bone marrow. It has haematological and neurological manifestations. The haematological manifestations are seen with folate as well as vitamin B12 deficiency. Folate deficiency in adults does not affect the nervous system.

Cobalamin deficiency is slow and “pure”. Folate deficiency is rapid and “impure”. Deficiecy of vitamin B12 occurs because of loss of intrinsic factor resulting in an isolated defect of B12 absorption. No other nutrients are affected. The body stores of B12 can last months. This results in B12 deficiency being a slow and “pure” deficiency. Symptoms come on slowly, over months. Folate deficiency evolves relatively quickly and is most commonly because of alcoholism or malabsorption. It is associated with other deficiencies and is rapid and “not pure”.


Manifestationf o megaloblastic anaemia

Figure 1. Clinical Manifestations of Megaloblastic Anaemia

Haematological Manifestations

Haematological changes resulting from vitamin B12 deficiency and folate deficiency are indistinguishable. Megaloblastic anaemias are macrocytic anaemia but macrocytosis is not specific to megaloblastic anaemia. It is however exceptional for other diseases characterised by macrocytosis to have an mean capsular volume (MCV) > 110fl.  This value can considered the threshold above which an anaemia is unlikely to be anything other than megaloblastic anaemia.

The earliest change in a megaloblastic anaemia is macrocytosis. This precedes changes in erythrocyte indices. Changes in mean capsular haemoglobin (MCH) follow and then the MCV rises. Haemoglobin usually falls after the MCV increases to >97 fl. As the severity of anaemia increases the peripheral smear shows aniscytosis and poikilocytosis, nucleated cells, Howell-Jolly bodies and Cabot’s ring. Microcytes and erythrocyte fragments that represent dyserythropoiesis may be seen. Polychromasia is absent and this distinguishes megaloblastic anaemia from haemolytic anaemia.

The term megaloblatic anaemia is a misnomer. The disease is actually a panmyelosis.  Erythroid, myeloid and megakaryocytic series are affected. Thrombocytopenia and leucopenia (neutropenia and to a lesser extent lymphopenia) usually occur late in the course. It is uncommon for patients with mild anaemia to have platelets and neutrophils but occasionally changes in leucocytes and/or platelets may dominate.

Iron deficiency or β-thalassaemia trait result in microcytosis and hypochromia and may incidentally co-exist with megaloblastic anaemia. Co-existence of either of these diseases with megaloblastic anaemia may mask macrocytosis of megaloblastic anaemia. Presence of hypersegmented neutrophils in a patients with normocytic normochromic anaemia should raise the suspicion of a megaloblastic anaemia co-existing with Iron deficiency or β-thalassaemia trait.

Neurological Manifestations

Cobalamine deficiceny causes neurological dysfunction. Folate deficiency causes symptoms only in children. Children with inborn errors of folate metabolism may have myelopathy, brain dysfunction and seizures.

The neurological manifestations of B12 deficiency are a result of a combination of upper motor neuron manifestations from subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord, sensory and lower motor neuron manifestations from peripheral neuropathy and neurophychiatratic manifestations. Subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord (SACD) is a degerative disease of the spinal cord involving the posterior and lateral column (corticospinal and spinoceribellar tracts) that starts in the cervical and the thoracic region.

The earliest neurological manifestations are impaired sense of vibration and position and symmetric dysesthasia that involve the lower limb. This is frequently associated with sensory ataxia. With progression spastic paraparesis develops. The patients have brisk knee reflexes, reflecting an upper motor neuron involvement and depressed ankle reflex, reflecting a peripheral neuropathy. Bladder involvement is unusual. Some patients may have optic atrophy.

Neuropsychiatric manifestation include memory loss, depression, hypomania, paranoid psychosis with auditory and visual hallucinations.

Other manifestations

Skin and nails can show pigmentations. Mucosa of the villi undergoes megalobkastic change resulting in temporary malabsorption.

Response to therapy

Haematological Recovery

  • Day 1: Feeling better
  • Day2-3: Reticulocytosis appears
  • Day 7-10: Peak retuculocytosis
  • Day 15 onwards: Neutrophilic hypersegmentation disappears
  • Day 56 (8 weeks): Blood counts become fully .normal

Neurological Recovery

Neurologic improvement begins within the first week also and is typically complete in 6 weeks to 3 months. Its course is not as predictable as hematologic response and may not be complete.



Evolution and Spread of HbS

The gene for β globin (OMIM  is present on chromosome 11 (11p15.4) along with other globin genes (ε, γ, γ and δ). This is known as the β-globin cluster . Individuals carrying identical genes on the β-globin gene cluster may not have identical DNA sequences in non-codeing regions of the DNA of the cluster. The non-coding regions include segments of DNA between genes and introns within genes. . Differences in DNA exist between individuals every 1000-2000 bases in the form of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Single nucleotide polymorphisms are variations in a single nucleotide that occurs at a specific position in the genome. Many of these differences have no consequences on gene expression because either they do not result in change in amino acid sequence or they occur in regions of DNA that neither code for the gene nor regulate the gene. SNPs evolve by spontaneous mutations over time. The lesser the number of such differences between two individuals closer the individuals are the each other genetically (and in terms of evolution). Fewer differences in SNPs between individuals mean a more recent common ancestor.

One of the meanings of the word haplotype is a pattern of SNPs. A haplotype may be considered as a DNA “environment” in which the gene(s) occurs. This “environment” is created by the sequence of single nucleotide polymorphisms in which the gene(s) exists. As mentioned above differences in SNPs (and hence the “environment” the gene(s) exist in) evolve by spontaneous mutations over period of time. Fewer the differences between the “environments” the genes occurs in the more the likelihood that they come from related individuals.

HbS results from a single base substitution in the codon 6 of the β-globin gene. GAG becomes GTA resulting in substitution of valine for glutamate. This change results in a haemoglobin that crystallizes in hypoxic conditions resulting in a haemolytic anaemia. HbS occurs in diverse population groups including African, Mediterranean, Middle-Eastern and Indian. Is the haplotype of the HbS gene in these regions similar?

The HbS mutation occurs on five different haplotypes four African and one Arab-Indian. The mutation is the same (GAG to GTA on codon 6) but the SNPs are different. The haplotypes are

  1. Senegal: The Senegal HbS haplotype is found in Atlantic West Africa and Portugal
  2. Benin: The Benin HbS haplotype is found Central West Africa, Northern Africa and Mediterranean Europe (Greece, Sicily)
  3. Central African Republic or Bantu: The Central African Republic or Bantu is found in South Central and Eastern Africa
  4. Cameroon: The Cameroon haplotype is found in the Eton ethnic group of eastern Cameroon
  5. Arab-Indian: The Arab-Indian haplotype is the only non-African phenotype of HbS found in the eastern oasis of Saudi Arabia and India.

Origin of Haplotypes

There are two theories about the origin of haplotypes. The first, and the more accepted one, states that the five haplotypes arose from five independent mutations. An alternative hypothesis states that HbS mutation occurred only once and spread to other haplotypes by gene conversion.


Haplotypes and Severity of Symptoms

Symptoms of sickle cell anaemia are a consequence of crystallisation of haemoglobin under hypoxic conditions. HbF inhibits sickling. Patients with high HbF have fewer symptoms. The Arab-Indian and the Senegal haplotype are associated with higher HbF levels (17% and 12.4% respectively). In general patients carrying these haplotypes have milder symptoms than the Bantu or Benin haplotypes (Blood 2014; 123: 481)


Haplotypes and Human Migrations

Trade, conquests and human migrations (voluntary and slave trade) have disseminated the African haplotypes beyond Africa.

  1. The Mediterranean: Most of the Mediterranean (Greece and Scilly) has the Benin haplotype. This reflects pre-historic migrations from Central West Africa along the then fertile Sahara to North Africa. From here it spread to the Mediterranean via the interactions (Trade and wars) between the two regions. The only exception is Portugal. Portugal has the Senegal haplotype which reflects the trading contacts between Portugal and Atlantic West Africa (Angola and Mozambique).
  2. Americas: Neither the native americans nor the original European settlers to the Americas carried the HbS gene. HbS was imported to the Americas with the slaves from Africa. Jamaica was an important slave import hub and records for where tthe slaves arrived from are available. Jamaica has 73% Benin haplotype, 17% Bantu and 10% Senegal haplotypes. These numbers are close to the actual number of slaves who arrived in Jamaica from regions of Africa where these haplotypes are prevalent. Similarly the distribution of haplotype correspond to the origins of slaves in Baltimore and South Carolina (Mariam Bloom. Understanding Sickle Cell Disease, Page 34).
  3. Arab or Indian: It is not clear if the Arab-Indian haplotype originated in India or Saudi Arabia. But considering that all of tribal India has only one haplotype but the East and West Arabian Peninsula have different haplotypes it is possible that the haplotype originated in India.
  4. Spread to Other Parts: As opposed to the era of slave trade modern migration of people in the recent past have been voluntary. These populations have spread across the world as have those form mediterranean but to a lesser extent. These migrations have introduced the HbS gene in areas where it was not indigenous.


Calreticulin and Myeloproliferative Disease

Myeloproliferative disorders (polycythaemia vera [PV], essential thrombocytosis [ET], progressive myelofibrosis [PMF]) are a group of diseases that are characterised by increased proliferation of blood cells, splenomegaly, myelofibrosis, thrombosis and risk of malignant transformation.  The year 2005 was a landmark year for myeloproliferative diseases. Four groups of scientists identified the presence of JAK2V617F mutations in PV. This mutation is present in about 98% patients with PV. Mutations of exon 12 of the JAK2 gene can be found in 1-2% of the PV. These patients do not show the JAK2V617F mutation. The discovery of these mutations gave a genetic definition PV making diagnosis objective.

PV is diagnosed by the presence primary erythrocytosis in the precession of a JAK2 mutation referred to above. Chronic myeloid leukaemia is diagnosed by demonstrating the BCR-ABL1 translocation. JAK2V617F is also present in 50-60% of ET and PMF. Mutation of the gene MPL is found in 1-2%  patients of ET and 5-10% of the patients with PMF. The presence of these mutation helps make diagnosis. However, The diagnosis of PMF and ET in a large proportion of patients requires exclusion of a reactive disorder and other myeloproliferative diseases because these patients (38-49% of ET and 30-45% of PMF) have no genetic marker.

Two publications have shown that a large proportion of the patients with ET and PMF who do not have JAK have mutation calreticulin (CALR) (N Engl J Med. 2013;369(25):2391-2405,  N Engl J Med. 2013;369(25):2379-2390). In addition to ET and PMF CALR mutations are found in the MDS/MPN overlap disorder and refractory anemia with ring sideroblasts with thrombocytosis (RARS-T). They are rare or absent in other myeloid or lymphoid neoplasms or solid tumors.

Calreticulin (CALR) is a major calcium binding protein. The gene for calreticulin is located on 19p13.2. About a quarter of ET and MF have mutation in the CALR gene. All CALR mutations are localised to exon 9 and generate a 1bp frameshift. As a result of this most or almost all the C terminal negative amino acids and calcium binding sites are lost.  There is a complete loss of the KDEL endoplasmic reticulum binding sequence. These mutations have been identified in the haemopoietic stem cell and progenitor compartments. CALR mutations and JAK2 mutations are mutually exclusive.

CALR mutated myeloproliferative disease have a distinct clinical profile. These patients have a lower haemoglobin, lower leukocyte count, higher platelet count and a lower risk of thrombosis. Patients of PMF carrying a CALR mutation have a longer survival than those carrying JAK2 or MPL mutations. Patients with ET carrying the CALR mutations have a longer survival than those carrying the JALK2 mutation. There is no difference between the survival of ET patients carrying CALR mutations and MPL mutations.

Mutated CALR appears to stimulate STAT pathway. It appears to physically bind with the thrombopoietin receptor to stimulate STAT. The erythropoietin receptor is not needed for this action (Blood. 2015;10.1182/blood-2015-11-681932Blood. 2015;126:LBA-4).




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.

Staging of Multiple Myeloma

Cancer is a heterogenous disease in terms of survival. Cancer staging is a method to classify patients according to prognosis. More advanced stages are associated with a worse prognosis. Patients with a poorer prognosis need to treated more aggressive. Non-haematological cancers are stages by the TNM staging. This system relies on the size of primary tumour, number of regional nodes involved and the presence or absence of distant metastasis to stage cancers. This scheme of of things is inappropriate for haematological cancers because

  1. The T Stage: Either it may be difficult to define the primary or in case of lymphoma the lymph node disease may be the primary
  2. The N Stage: Lymph node are not involved except in lymphoma where they are the primary site.
  3. The M Stage: Other than lymphomas haematological malignancies are “disseminated” at presentation with either the disease in the blood, as is the case with leukaemia, or in the bone marrow in case of multiple myeloma

These differences have resulted in evolution of staging/prognostic systems distinct from the TNM when one deals with haematological malignancies.

Multiple myeloma is a plasm cell neoplasm. It is characterised by a monoclonal protein in the serum and/or the urine, osteolytic lesions, anaemia, hyercalcaemia and renal failure. In the 1960s and 1970s these and other features of the disease were found to predict prognosis. Durie and Salmon in 1975 proposed the first staging system for multiple myeloma using type and amount of the monoclonal protein, haemoglobin, serum calcium and serum creatinine. They defined three stages of multiple myeloma I, II and , III. The tumour load increased as the stage increased. Each stage was further divided into substage A and B depending on the serum creatinine. The Durie-Salmon staging system is as follows:

    1. Stage I (All of the below)
      1. Hemoglobin value >10 g/dL
      2. Serum calcium value normal or =12 mg/dL
      3. Bone x-ray, normal bone structure (scale 0) or solitary bone plasmacytoma only
      4. Low M-component production rate (IgG < 5 g/dL; IgA < 3 g/dL; Bence Jones protein <4 g/24 hr)
    2. Stage II – Neither stage I nor stage III
    3. Stage III  One or more of the following:
      1. Haemoglobin < 8.5g/dL
      2. Serum calcium > 12 mg/dL
      3. Advanced lytic bone lesions (scale 3)
      4. High M-component production rate – IgG  >7 g/dL; IgA >5 g/dL; Bence Jones protein >12 g/24 h

Durie-Salmon sub classifications (either A or B)
A: Relatively normal renal function (serum creatinine value <2.0 mg/dL)
B: Abnormal renal function (serum creatinine value =2.0 mg/dL)

This system was widely adapted but the assesment of osteolytic lesions is subjective resulting in a poor reproducibility. Several attempts to improve the system that did not gain widespread acceptance were proposed.

After the introduction of the Duris-Salmon system other prognostic factors emerged. These included serum albumin, C-reactive protein, proliferation indices for bone marrow plasma cells (flowcytometery and S-phase fraction), bone marrow plasma cells and serum β2-microglobulin levels. Serum β2-microglobulin emerged as a good predictor of prognosis. 2005 the international staging system for multiple myeloma was proposed. The ISS stage was determined by only two objectively assessable parameters, serum β2-microglobulin and serum albumin. The staging system was as follows (J Clin Oncol May 20, 2005 vol. 23 no. 15 3412-3420)

  1. Stage I, Serum β2-microglobulin less than 3.5 mg/L and serum albumin ≥ 3.5 g/dL
  2. Stage II, neither stage I nor III
  3. Stage III, Serum β2-microglobulin ≥ 5.5 mg/L

The median survivals by stage are as follows: stage I 62months, Stage II 44 months and stage III 29 months.

Chromosomal studies, conventional karyotyping and interphase chromosomal studies using fluorescent In-situ hybridisation (FISH), identified translocations that adversely affect the out come of myeloma. These included del(17p), translocation t(4;14)(p16;q32) and translocation t(14;16)(q32;q23). In 2015 the chromosomal translocation were incorporated in the ISS and a revised system (R-ISS) was proposed (JCO.2015.61.2267)

The revised staging system is as follows

  1. R-ISS I: Serum β2-microglobulin level < 3.5 mg/L and serum albumin level ≥ 3.5 g/dL), no high-risk chromosome anomalies – [del(17p) and/or t(4;14) and/or t(14;16)] and LDH level less than the upper limit of normal range.
  2. R-ISS II: Nether R-ISS I nor R-ISS II
  3. R-ISS III: ISS stage III (serum β2-microglobulin level > 5.5 mg/L) with either high-risk chromosomal anomalies or high LDH level

Median OS not reached R-ISS, 83 months for R-ISS II and 43 months for R-ISS III. The improved median survival for all stages in R-ISS is a reflection of the efficacy of drug therapy of myeloma.