BACKGROUND: The myelodysplastic syndromes are a group of hematologic disorders that often evolve into secondary acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The genetic changes that underlie progression from the myelodysplastic syndromes to secondary AML are not well understood.
METHODS: We performed whole-genome sequencing of seven paired samples of skin and bone marrow in seven subjects with secondary AML to identify somatic mutations specific to secondary AML. We then genotyped a bone marrow sample obtained during the antecedent myelodysplastic-syndrome stage from each subject to determine the presence or absence of the specific somatic mutations. We identified recurrent mutations in coding genes and defined the clonal architecture of each pair of samples from the myelodysplastic-syndrome stage and the secondary-AML stage, using the allele burden of hundreds of mutations.
RESULTS: Approximately 85% of bone marrow cells were clonal in the myelodysplastic-syndrome and secondary-AML samples, regardless of the myeloblast count. The secondary-AML samples contained mutations in 11 recurrently mutated genes, including 4 genes that have not been previously implicated in the myelodysplastic syndromes or AML. In every case, progression to acute leukemia was defined by the persistence of an antecedent founding clone containing 182 to 660 somatic mutations and the outgrowth or emergence of at least one subclone, harboring dozens to hundreds of new mutations. All founding clones and subclones contained at least one mutation in a coding gene.
CONCLUSIONS: Nearly all the bone marrow cells in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes and secondary AML are clonally derived. Genetic evolution of secondary AML is a dynamic process shaped by multiple cycles of mutation acquisition and clonal selection. Recurrent gene mutations are found in both founding clones and daughter subclones. (Funded by the National Institutes of Health and others.)