The Patterns of Fetal Haemoglobin Production in Leukaemia
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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.
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