Fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH) has been proven as a helpful tool in diagnosis and monitoring of bcr/abl fusion in chronic myelogeneous leukaemia (CML). Since long-term cultures are known to decrease the number of bcr/abl-fused cells, it is questionable whether similar effects are detectable in short-term cultures, a technique often preceding FISH analysis. Therefore, we evaluated bone marrow aspirates of 10 CML patients at biopsy and after culturing for between 24 and 144 h by FISH. The percentage of bcr/abl-fused cells in FISH varied between 15 and 70% at biopsy. In samples with 15 and 30% of aberrant cells at biopsy, an increase of about 20% per day was seen within the first 48 h. In longer lasting cultures, the percentage of leukaemic cells then asymptotically approached a value of 60–70%. In patients with 38 and 50% of bcr/abl-fused cells at biopsy, an increase of about 20% could be detected in the first 24 h. Then 65–70% of the cells already bore the bcr/abl fusion, and the percentage of leukaemic cells was almost constant for longer lasting cultures up to 144 h. In patients with a percentage of about 70% before culturing, no increase in positive cells was detected. These results emphasize the impact of short-term culturing on the number of bcr/abl-fused cells. In particular, the importance for monitoring CML patients is obvious. Therefore the effect described should be taken into account in order to avoid misinterpretation and incorrect therapy decisions in CML patients.

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