Approximately 25% of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemias carry the ETV6/RUNX1 fusion gene. Despite their excellent initial treatment response, up to 20% of patients relapse. To gain insight into the relapse mechanisms, we analyzed single nucleotide polymorphism arrays for DNA copy number aberrations (CNAs) in 18 matched diagnosis and relapse leukemias. CNAs were more abundant at relapse than at diagnosis (mean 12.5 vs 7.5 per case; P=.01) with 5.3 shared on average. Their patterns revealed a direct clonal relationship with exclusively new aberrations at relapse in only 21.4%, whereas 78.6% shared a common ancestor and subsequently acquired distinct CNA. Moreover, we identified recurrent, mainly nonoverlapping deletions associated with glucocorticoid-mediated apoptosis targeting the Bcl2 modifying factor (BMF) (n=3), glucocorticoid receptor NR3C1 (n=4), and components of the mismatch repair pathways (n=3). Fluorescence in situ hybridization screening of additional 24 relapsed and 72 nonrelapsed ETV6/RUNX1-positive cases demonstrated that BMF deletions were significantly more common in relapse cases (16.6% vs 2.8%; P=.02). Unlike BMF deletions, which were always already present at diagnosis, NR3C1 and mismatch repair aberrations prevailed at relapse. They were all associated with leukemias, which poorly responded to treatment. These findings implicate glucocorticoid-associated drug resistance in ETV6/RUNX1-positive relapse pathogenesis and therefore might help to guide future therapies.
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