The differentiation syndrome in patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia: experience of the pethema group and review of the literature

Pau Montesinos, Miguel A Sanz
Mediterranean Journal of Hematology and Infectious Diseases 2011, 3 (1): e2011059
Differentiation syndrome (DS), formerly known as retinoic acid syndrome, is the main life-threatening complication of therapy with differentiating agents (all-trans retinoic acid [ATRA] or arsenic trioxide [ATO]) in patients with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). The differentiation of leukemic blasts and promyelocytes induced by ATRA and/or ATO may lead to cellular migration, endothelial activation, and release of interleukins and vascular factors responsible of tissue damage. Roughly one quarter of patients with APL undergoing induction therapy will develop the DS, characterized by unexplained fever, acute respiratory distress with interstitial pulmonary infiltrates, and/or a vascular capillary leak syndrome leading to acute renal failure. Although the development of the DS, particularly of the severe form, is still associated with a significant increase in morbidity and mortality during induction, the early administration of high-dose dexamethasone at the onset of the first symptoms seems likely to have dramatically reduced the mortality rate of this complication. In this article, we will review the clinical features, incidence, prognostic factors, management, and outcome of the DS reported in the scientific literature. We will make focus in the experience of the three consecutive Programa Español de Tratamientos en Hematología trials (PETHEMA LPA96, LPA99, and LPA2005), in which more than one thousand patients were treated with ATRA plus idarubicin for induction.

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