Refractory cytopenia of childhood is the most common type of childhood myelodysplastic syndrome. Because the majority of children with refractory cytopenia have a normal karyotype and a hypocellular bone marrow, differentiating refractory cytopenia from the immune-mediated bone marrow failure syndrome (very) severe aplastic anemia can be challenging. Flow cytometric immunophenotyping of bone marrow has been shown to be a valuable diagnostic tool in differentiating myelodysplastic syndrome from non-clonal cytopenias in adults. Here, we performed the first comprehensive flow cytometric analysis of immature myeloid, lymphoid cells and erythroid cells, and granulocytes, monocytes, and lymphoid cells in bone marrow obtained from a large prospective cohort of 81 children with refractory cytopenia. Children with refractory cyotopenia had a strongly reduced myeloid compartment, but not as severe as children with aplastic anemia. Furthermore, the number of flow cytometric abnormalities was significantly higher in children with refractory cytopenia than in healthy controls and in children with aplastic anemia, but lower than in advanced myelodysplastic syndrome. We conclude that flow cytometric immunophenotyping could be a relevant addition to histopathology in the diagnosis of refractory cytopenia of childhood. (The multi-center studies EWOG-MDS RC06 and EWOG-MDS 2006 are registered at clinicaltrials.gov identifiers 00499070 and00662090, respectively).
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