BACKGROUND: The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether levels of neuroblastoma mRNAs in bone marrow and peripheral blood from stage M infants (≤12 months of age at diagnosis, MYCN amplified) and toddlers (between 12 and 18 months, any MYCN status) predict event-free survival (EFS).
METHODS: Bone marrow aspirates and peripheral blood samples from 97 infants/toddlers enrolled in the European High-Risk Neuroblastoma trial were collected at diagnosis in PAXgene™ blood RNA tubes. Samples were analyzed by reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction according to standardized procedures.
RESULTS: Bone marrow tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) or paired-like homeobox 2b (PHOX2B) levels in the highest tertile were associated with worse EFS; hazard ratios, adjusted for age and MYCN status, were 1.5 and 1.8 respectively. Expression of both TH and PHOX2B in the highest tertile predicted worse outcome (p = 0.015), and identified 20 (23%) infants/toddlers with 5-year EFS of 20% (95%CI: 4%-44%). Prognostic significance was maintained after adjusting for over-fitting bias (p = 0.038), age and MYCN status. In peripheral blood, PHOX2B levels in the highest tertile predicted a two-fold increased risk of an event (p = 0.032), and identified 23 (34%) infants/toddlers with 5-year EFS of 29% (95%CI: 12%-48%). Time-dependent receiver operating characteristic analysis confirmed the prognostic value of combined TH and PHOX2B in bone marrow and of PHOX2B in peripheral blood during the first year of follow-up.
CONCLUSIONS: High levels of bone marrow TH and PHOX2B and of peripheral blood PHOX2B at diagnosis allow early identification of a group of high-risk infant and toddlers with neuroblastoma who may be candidates for alternative treatments. Integration with additional biomarkers, as well as validation in additional international trials is warranted.