, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 117-128

Current Treatment Options: Impact of Cytogenetics on the Course of Myelodysplasia

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Opinion statement

The heterogeneity of myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) has driven the search for unifying biologic and clinical features that would stratify patients into distinct prognostic and therapeutic subgroups. Cytogenetics has been shown to impact the course of myelodysplasia. Despite the presence of non-random cytogenetic abnormalities in ∼50% of MDS patients, it is significant that only a proportion of metaphases may contain the abnormality. Clonality studies however show that the karyotypically normal metaphases are still part of the MDS clone. This would suggest that the chromosomal abnormality may not be the initiating lesion in MDS, and that the gross karyotypic changes represent clonal evolution in a genetically unstable population. Yet, as will be described below, specific cytogenetic abnormalities are associated with clinically and biologically distinct forms of the disease, most notable in the response of del(5q) patients to lenalidomide. One possible explanation for the appearance of non-random mutational events could relate to the interaction of MDS cells with their microenvironment. Whatever the initiating lesion in the MDS stem cell, the end result is a clonal expansion where the marrow becomes populated by the monoclonal progeny of this cell. Interaction of these cells with a microenvironment which has been shown to be rich in pro-apoptotic cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa), leads to increased genetic instability. Hypoxia mediated decrease in DNA repair enzymes could further accelerate mutational events culminating in accumulation of multiple chromosomal abnormalities. Some of these chromosomal changes are associated with increased sensitivity to specific drugs. Lenalidomide has shown a high degree of efficacy in MDS patients with del(5q), although the target for the drug is unknown since a small but significant subset of MDS patients without del(5q) abnormality also respond to the drug. In contrast, the molecular target for imatinib mesylate is known; mutations in tyrosine kinase receptor family of genes found in patients with t(5;12) and del(4q12) make these individuals sensitive to the drug. Patients with isolated trisomy 8 have an immune component to the disease phenotype which can be targeted by cyclosporine and or anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG), especially in the presence of a PNH (paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinurea) clone. In the absence of these specific cytogenetic abnormalities described above, the two FDA approved hypomethylating agents 5 azacytidine and decitabine should be considered as therapeutic alternatives.