DESPITE THE suffix-dysplastic, the term myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)
is a clonal disorder of the haematopoietic stem cell interrelated with
other clone bone marrow disorders such as the acute leukemia and the
myeloproliferative syndromes. The various subtypes of the MDSs can be
clinically "lumped" together as they have in common:

the clinical manifestation of bone marrow failure as well as a tendency
to transform into an acute leukemia phase; 

the pathological manifestation of morphological abnormalities (termed
"dysplasia") of the peripheral blood and bone marrow cells such as
ringed sideroblasts, megaloblastic erythroid precursors,
hypo-granulation/hyposegmentation of the granulocytes and

This description serves as a clinicopathological definition of MDS; the
pathological manifestation reminds the reader that for lack of
dependable, reproducible markers of clonality, the morphological
abnormalities noted represent in part a working definition of the
disorder. This clinical manifestation reminds the reader that this is a
syndrome with a wide range of presentations, specifically of cytopenias
that can range from an isolated anemia for 10 years to a rapidly
evolving acute leukemia fatal within weeks. Thus, it is not surprising
that this disease has defied proper classification over the years.
Consequently, the medical literature is replete with many descriptive
terms before the widespread use of the term MDS": herald state of
leukemia, refractory anemia (RA), preleukemic anemia, preleukemic
syndrome, preleukemia, refractory anemia with ringed sideroblasts
(RARS), refractory normoblastic anemia, refractory anemia with excess
myeloblasts (RAEB), smoldering acute leukemia, chronic erythemic
myelosis, subacute myelomonocytic leukemia, hypoplastic acute
myetogenous leukemia (AML), haematopoietic dysplasia, subacute myeloid

In 1949, Hamilton-Patterson described three patients with acute leukemia
preceded by an anemic phase ("preleukemic anemia"). This observation was
followed in 1953 by a report by  Block et al12 of a larger group of 12
patients with a cytopenic phase of whom 11 later developed acute
leukemia. Because these initial series of patients described in the
literature were comprised mostly of patients whose course culminated in
AML, the full spectrum of cytopenias with bone marrow dysplasia was not
described, as, in general, only 20% to 30% of all patients now termed as
MDS progress to overt, acute leukemia.

In 1975. during their initial proposals for the morphological
classification of the acute leukemia, the French-American-British (FAB)
group acknowledged that not all patients with cytopenias and dysplastic
peripheral blood and bone marrow features progress to acute leukemia. A
distinction was made between acute leukemia with its rapid onset of
signs and symptoms requiring immediate treatment and c group of
disorders that showed some of the characteristics of AML but were either
sub-acute or chronic in nature. The FAB group chose the term
dysmyelopoietic or myelodysplastic syndromes for this group of
disorders, as unlike AML, immediate treatment was rarely needed and
these patients were typically 60 years of age or older. Initially, the
FAB group recognized two categories of MDS: RAEB and chronic
myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML). Investigators noted that a  variable
progression of these cases evolved to overt acute leukemia associated
with an increase in blasts to approximately greater than 30%. In 1980, a
larger number of cases were reviewed with the intent to determine if
specific morphological abnormalities, singly or in groups, would predict
for a different biological outcome. This larger review of cases led to
an expanded definition of the  MDSs into five subgroups that could be
characterized by dysplastic features noted above.


A diagnosis of MDS should be entertained particularly in an elderly
patient (the peak incidence is in the eighth decade of life) in the
setting of an unexplained anemia, neutropenia. thrombocytopenia and/or
monocytosis without the usual explanations of marrow failure. Anemia
(hemoglobin < 11 g/dL) is most common (typically isolated), but
occasionally isolated thrombocytopenia and even less commonly isolated
neutropenia have been noted. Isolated thrombocytopenia may precede b\ 2
to 10 years. the development of the features to be discussed below that
permit classification as MDS. Another challenge to the clinician
confronting a potential case of MDS is that, occasionally, the patient
will not present with a cytopenia The presentation can be one of
leukocytosis particular!) in association with CMML or one of
thrombocytosis particularly in association with RA or RARS (in turn in
association often with partial deletion of the long arm of chromosome
no. 5 termed 5q -).

The diagnosis of MDS can only be made after careful examination of the
peripheral blood  smear, bone marrow aspirate, and biopsy specimen. No
single morphological finding is diagnostic. rather, the combination of
dysplastic features in the peripheral blood and bone marrow is
necessary. The diagnosis of MDS is a diagnosis of exclusion, in
particular the following always must be excluded as they can be
accompanied by dysplasia: (1) vitamin B12; and/or folate deficiency; (2)
proven exposure to heavy metals: (3) recent cytotoxic therapy: (4)
ongoing inflammation including HIV and cancer, and (5) chronic liver
disease/alcohol use.

The first three criteria should be considered absolute exclusions
precluding the definite diagnosis of MDS whereas the latter two could be
considered to be relative exclusions as patients will exist with both
MDS and a coincidental inflammatory state (such as cancer or rheumatoid
arthritis) or MDS with coincidental chronic liver disease/alcohol use.
Furthermore, even after ruling out the above conditions, the diagnosis
of MDS can be elusive due to its variability'1 with regard to (1)
sampling site (sternal versus iliac); (2) cellularity (differences may
be noted within adjacent spaces of the same core biopsy);

(3) patient's progress over time; and (4) involvement of the erythroid,
myeloid. and megakaryocytic lineage - classically MDS has trilineage
dysplasia but occasionally, particularly in early-onset cases, dysplasia
can be confined to only one or two lineage.

The standard stains (May-Giemsa. haematoxylin and eosin) should be done
as well as the Prussian blue stain for iron and the reticulin stain for
fibrosis. If the patient is iron deficient based on the Prussian blue
stain, a silver stain"" may reveal ringed sideroblasts that would
otherwise be masked by iron deficiency as the silver stain shows only
the phosphate moiety.

Several Cytochemical and immunologic techniques can supplement the above
standard stains. The myeloid origin of the blast cells can usually he
confirmed b\ the peroxidase and Sudan Black B stains whereas the
nonspecific esterase or double-esterase stain can often distinguish
early monocytic precursors from poorly granulated myelocytes. The double
esterase stain may also identify a population of early myeloid monocytic
cells (presence of both granulocytic and monocyte esterase) in the
marrow. In a study from the Mayo Clinic, the iron stain was the most
useful cytochemical stain in distinguishing certain types of MDS from
cases in the non-MDS and nondiagnostic groups. The peroxidase levels
decrease in amount per cell and the number of cells that are positive
decrease over the course of MDS.

The application of immune marker analysis of lymphoid and myeloid cells
in the diagnosis of the acute leukemia has naturally found use in the
diagnosis of the MDSs. Several immunologic phenotypes have been
described using a battery of monoclonal antibodies: the most common is
"myeloid" (CD13+, CD14+, CD33+, peroxidase +), but both pure lymphoid
blast types" (TdT+. CD19+. CD10+) and biphenotypic patterns have been
noted. Several flow cytometric studies of bone marrow aspirates in MDS
over the past ~5 years have assayed for the early marker of stem cell/
myeloid differentiation, CD34.43-54 immunohistochemical staining of the
bone marrow biopsy can also be done for CD34 expression. In these
studies a correlation exists between CD34 positivity with RAEB and RAEB
in transformation (RAEB-t) subtypes. Also. CD34 positivity is
significantly associated with progression to leukemia and shorter
survival, although this may not be an independent variable.

In a study by Oertel et al. the blasts in the RAEB subtype were
predominantly CD34 negative with an emergence of CD34 positive blasts in
the RAEB-t subtype. Along those lines, the finding of CD34 positivity or
a phenotype such as the co-expression ofCD33/CD13 may prompt the
clinician to consider similar "induction-remission" therapy as used in
de novo AML. Such a situation was reported by Woodlock et al. in two
cases of CMML that expressed CD34 positivity, one of the cases also had
aberrant expression of CD3 (a T cell marker). This co-expression and the
CD34 positivity were both thought to be consistent with aggressive,
proliferative disease prompting the physicians to administer AML-like
induction-remission therapy. A complete remission was achieved in each
case. Another aggressive clinical subset of MDS with an immunophenotypic
correlate are those cases of MDS clearly related to organochemical
exposure. Such cases have a high expression of glycoprotein (gp) p-17U
the product of the multidrug resistance gene-1 (as well as CD34
positivity). However, in these cases of p-170 expression or for that
matter CD34 positivity, intensive chemotherapy although possibly
achieving a complete remission, will usually not be curative because the
"remission" hematopoiesis will still in all likelihood be clonal as the
MDS phenotype typically involves an early stem cell.  CD34+.

Immunologic techniques have been also applied towards characterization
of megakaryocytes in MDS. Occasionally in MDS, the megakaryocytes cannot
be easily identified by light microscopy. In particular, the abnormally
small megakaryoblasts ("dwarf cells") may resemble lymphoid precursors
similar to FAB L2 lymphoblasts. In one study of 23 patients with MDS in
which 12 of 23 (52^) had dysmegakaryopoiesis on routine May-Giemsa
staining, an additional nine cases of MDS showed dysmegakaryopoiesis
after staining the megakaryocytes for IIb/IlIa. "CDw41" by the alkaline
phosphatase anti-alkaline phosphatase technique. Furthermore. this
immunostain also detected megakaryoblasts. none of which were detected
in the study using May-Giemsa staining."0 Other immunostains that can
easily identify megakaryocytes on air-dried smears include an antibody
prepared against platelet specific gp IlIa alone (CD61)112 or by
histologic bone marrow reactions with an antibody against factor VIII or
fibronectin.'"1 Erythroid progenitors also can be identified by a
variety of immunostains with antibodies against glycophorin A,
hemoglobin, CD45, and transferrin receptor CD71. The identification of
erythroblasts by immunostaining may be of prognostic significance as
those with high numbers may have a higher incidence of transformation to

Despite the many cytoimmunological tests available on the marrow
aspirate, the need for careful examination of the bone marrow biopsy by
routine light microscopy should not be trivialized. The definition of
dysplasia as defined by Bartl et al as a loss in uniformity of the
individual cells, as well as a loss in the their architectural
orientation" reminds one that the biopsy is necessary for the full
delineation of MDS. The core biopsy can complement examination of the
aspirate in the diagnosis as well as the prognosis'" of MDS in several

In cases of inadequate marrow aspiration, the core biopsy still usually
allows for determination of the subgroups of MDS. Furthermore, a good
concordance exists between the proportion of marrow blasts in the core
biopsy and the aspirate. In one particular study showing such a
correlation, the histologic (biopsy specimens) and cytological (marrow
smears) examinations were concordant in 24 of 28 cases by the FAB

The core biopsy permits identification of clusters of immature cells
(that are myeloid in origin by cytochemistry or immunohistochemistry)
displaced from the peritrabecular area to the intertrabecular areas.
This finding of the abnormal location of immature precursors (ALIP) may
possibly confer a poor prognosis, although this is still controversial.

The core biopsy allows easier identification of dysmegakaryopoiesis than
by the marrow aspirate. Approximately 80% of biopsy specimens show
dysmegakaryopoiesis. Furthermore, the severity of dysmegakaryopoiesis
may confer a worse prognosis.

Using the core biopsy, one can determine the degree of marrow fibrosis.
Approximately 50% of cases will have a mild to moderate increase in
marrow reticulin. Cases with marked fibrosis will  be discussed later as
such cases may have prognostic and therapeutic implications.

Core biopsies allow accurate assessment of the marrow cellularity. The
bone marrow cellularity should be at least normocellular for the age of
the patient. Typically, it is hypercellular particularly in the CMML,
RAEB, and RAEB-t subgroups.41' However, cases of hypoplastic MDS also
occur. These cases will be discussed later. The core biopsy can help in
distinguishing these cases from those with a hypocellular marrow with
foci of blasts ("hypocellular AML").


The sine qua non in the diagnosis of MDS is trilineage dyspoiesis. This
dyspoiesis results from clonal expansion of a multipotent stem cell
leading to impaired differentiation resulting clinically in cytopenia.
The impaired differentiation may be on the basis of extensive apoptosis.
The underlying clonal expansion of MDS was first suggested by Dacie who
noted a dimorphic population of red blood cells (RBCs) consistent with a
clonal disorder. Years later this was supported by studies of
glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase mosaicism and cytogenetic studies that
have shown an abnormal karyotype in the dysplastic cells coexisting with
residual marrow cells with a normal karyotype. These laboratory
studies291 showing clonality remind us that although we use the term
dysplasia in describing the morphological abnormalities. the underlying
process is neoplastic and not dysplastic in the strict sense of the

The following section is a compilation of morphological abnormalities
(dysplasia) used to define the myelodysplastic syndromes. In general,
these abnormalities should be present in at least 10% or greater of
cells of the respective lineage in consideration. The actual subgroup of
MDS then can be determined in considering four features after one is
convinced that adequate degree of dysplasia is present: the percent of
ringed sideroblasts, the percent of bone marrow blasts, the absolute
number of peripheral blood monocytes. and the presence of Auer rods.

An algorithm of the semiquantitative diagnosis of MDS by the FAB
criteria is presented in Figure 2.


The complete blood cell count can often suggest the presence of MDS in
terms of a moderate macrocytosis (mean cell volume reported in the 100
to 110 fmol range). MDS may account for 5% of all cases evaluated for
macrocytosis. Other changes suggestive of MDS from the peripheral blood
include: basophilic stippling, fragmented cells, and occasionally
nucleated RBCs. The circulating nucleated RBCs, in turn, often have
dysplastic features.

Not surprisingly, the morphological abnormalities in the erythroid
lineage are most pronounced in the bone marrow than the peripheral
blood. The two most characteristic features' are megaloblastosis (, fine
chromatin with asynchronous cytoplasm) and the presence of ringed
sideroblasts. Other findings include multinuclear fragments, bizarre
nuclear shapes. internuclear bridging, mitosis, abnormal dense
chromatin. and abnormal cytoplasmic features. These cytoplasmic
abnormalities may include intense basophilia. Howell-Jolly bodies, and
ghosted cytoplasm. Regarding the latter, on routine May-Giemsa staining,
erythroblasts with areas of unstained cytoplasm ("ghosted") with
ill-defined edges coexisting with coarse basophilic stippling appear to
represent ringed sideroblasts.

A leftward shift in erylhropoiesis can be noted with the number of
erythroid precursors between 5% and 50%. If more than 50% then the
diagnosis is erythroleukemia if there are more than 30% blasts (all
nucleated cells or nonerythroid component).

The finding of bone marrow sideroblasts is not necessarily diagnostic
for MDS because normal marrow can have occasional erythroblasts with
iron granules (but these sideroblasts typically have less than 5
granules) and sideroblasts can be noted in a variety of pathologic
states to be discussed herein. By definition. pathologic sideroblasts
have 5 or more granules) cell and can be termed "ringed" sideroblasts if
the granules cover more than one third of the nuclear rim. Cases with
clusters of ferritin granules of more than 5 per cell but not
surrounding the nucleus have also been noted. Historically, these would
not be counted with the ring sideroblasts as pathologic. but in our
opinion they are pathologic and so should be included.

Ringed sideroblasts and increased iron storage may be found in any of
the MDSs. but they are characteristic of RARS. Yet. the ringed
sideroblast is not synonymous with MDS as it can be noted in other
pathologic conditions such as alcohol-induced sideroblastic anemia.
chemotherapy-induced anemia, and in cases of the myeloproliferative
syndromes. Also a separate entity of sideroblastic anemia occurs that is
confined to dyserythropoiesis only, termed pure sideroblastic anemia
(PSA). The difference with RARS is that it must also have dysplasia in
the myeloid and 'or megakaryocytic lineages. The distinction between
these two entities (PSA and RARS) is important given the approximately
fourfold increase in leukemic progression in patients with RARS compared
with PSA (dyserythropoiesis without dysgranulopoiesis and/or
dysmegakaryopoiesis) 1f]l:1 The distinction between RARS and other
similar states of MDS with <5% blasts is also important for prognostic
purposes. They have unequivocal dyserythropoiesis in common with a
variable degree of dysmegakaryopoiesis/dysgranulopoiesis with the
difference being the degree of sideroblastosis  the FAB group chose a
level of 15% Cases less than that are termed RA and cases greater than
or equal to 15% are termed RARS Initially all nucleated cells were
considered instead of Just erythroblasts given the difficulty in
identifying Just nucleated erythroid precursors with the nuclear
counterstains originally used (neutral red) Since then. this definition
has been revised to refer strictly to erythroblasts M The result can be
a shift of patients classified as RA to RARS This lower limit may be
reasonable with the use of appropriate nuclear counterstains for
erythroid precursors. Yet, it appears that the majority of patients with
RARS far exceed the 15% limit.


The two characteristic peripheral blood findings are hypogranulation and
hyposegmentation of the polymorphonuclear leukocytes with chromatin
condensation (Pelger-Huet-Iike anomaly, also termed pelgeroid) The
hypogranulation can be extreme to the point that the granules are absent
with resultant negative peroxidase reaction.

Hast et al. have quantified the degree of dysgranulopoiesis with a
scoring system that grades the degree of hypogranulation and
hypolobulation. In a series of 51 cases of MDS, they noted 43 of 51
(84%) cases with hypogranulation and 49 of 51 cases with hypolobulated
neutrophils (pelgeroid polymorphs) A very good correlation occurred
between the degree of hypolobulation and/or hypogranulation in the
peripheral blood compared with the bone marrow This is useful to know m
cases of suspected MDS for which bone marrow cannot be readily obtained
Several other positive correlation were noted degree of hypogranulation
and increased percentage of bone marrow blasts, degree of hypolobulation
and ringed sideroblasts, degree of hypolobulation and bone marrow
fibrosis, and degree of hypolobulation and complex chromosomal

   Besides hypogranulation, other cytoplasmic abnormalities include
persistent cytoplasmic basophilia of the rim of the cell and
occasionally hypergranulation instead of hypogranulation and larger
granules than usual The latter can recapitulate the appearance of
neutrophils in the congenital disorder Chediak-Higashi syndrome.

Several nuclear abnormalities have been noted besides hypolobulation
Clumping of chromatin has been described where blocks are separated by a
clear space leading to an appearance of nuclear fragmentation associated
with a loss of segmentation These patients have variable leukocytosis
with a survival typically less than a year''. Further cases are needed
in determining whether this entity is best classified as either MDS or a
myeloproliferative disorder Ring-shaped nuclei have been described in
MDS as well as myeloproliferative disorders In one series, ringed
granulocytic nuclei were noted in a quarter of cases with MDS.  Nuclear
sticks can be seen particularly in cases of secondary MDS or
therapy-related MDS.

The above morphological characteristics may explain in part the tendency
of these patients towards infection. Infection is the most common cause
of death in MDS. far more common a cause of death than leukemic
transformation.  Phagocytes adhesion, chemotaxis, and microbicidal
capacities are impaired. However, no correlation of infection with the
degree of hypogranulation has been found. Also. the risk for fatal
infection appears to correlate with the subtype namely, higher risk for
fatal infection if the subtype is either RAEB, RAEB-t, or CMML compared
with RA or RARS H< An increase in the percent of blasts may also
correlate with the risk of fatal infection.


As in the case of dysgranulopoiesis qualitative findings are more
notable than quantitative findings The number of megakaryocytes are
usually normal although hypoplasia or hyperplasia can occasional!} be
seen MDS with megakaryocytic hyperplasia can be confused with idiopathic
thrombocytopenic purpura In the peripheral blood, large, hypogranular or
hyper-granular platelets can be seen In the marrow marked morphologic
abnormalities of the megakaryocytic precursors can be seen in at least
half of the patients and, as mentioned previously, if immunostains are
used, almost all cases will have dysmegakaryopoiesis detected. Ideally,
at least 10 megakaryocytes should be assessed. Dysmegakarocytic features
include (1) micromegakaryocytes (dwarf forms) which can be defined as
two times less than the diameter of a neutrophils (<800
u-m/m2)micromegakaryocytes in combination with pelgeroid granulocytes
may be the most specific dysplastic markers of MDS, (2) multiple small
nuclei that are reminiscent of the neutrophils of megaloblastic anemia;
(3) mononuclear forms, large or smalla small mononuclear form with a
round nucleus eccentrically placed has been noted in association with
the cytogenetic abnormality 5q-, and (4) hypogranulated megakaryocytes 
a result may be a deficiency in the dense granules of the mature
platelet leading to platelet dysfunction.

As such, clinically these morphological abnormalities can be accompanied
by a tendency towards bleeding despite a normal platelet count, although
commonly the risk for bleeding correlates with the degree of
thrombocytopenia. The risk for bleeding may also correlate with the
degree of dysmegakaryopoiesis. A correlation between prolongation of the
bleeding time and an increase in micromegakaryocytes (by greater than
10% has been reported.


In the diagnosis of MDS. its very important to have an unambiguous
definition of blast cells given the fact that the percentage of blast
cells is the single most important prognostic factor in MDS in terms of
overall survival and risk of overt leukemic progression. The prognosis
can be further stratified into three ranges of percent blasts: < 5%; 5%
to 20%; and > 20% to 30%.'' Even in the range of 5% to 20% blasts. a
difference occurs in prognosis. In one study. the median survival was 16
months in 100 patients with a blast cell percentage of 5% to 10% 
compared with a median survival of 5 months in 58 patients with a blast
cell percentage of 11% to 20%. A difference in prognosis has been noted
even between patients with RA and <3% bone marrow blasts compared with
patients with RA and >3%(but <5%)of bone marrow blasts.

Besides the range of the percent of blasts, the type of blasts may have
prognostic significance, patients with type III blasts may have a worse
prognosis. Type 1 blasts have undifferentiated progenitor cells in
association with granulocylic colonies (promyelocytes, myelocytes,
metamyelocytes, etc). These cells resemble promyelocytes but have a very
uncondensed ("reticular") nuclear chromatin pattern. These cells usually
have at least one and usually two or three prominent nucleoli, and
slightly to moderately basophilic cytoplasm without a Golgi zone.
Cytoplasmic granules are always absent and they have no Auer rods.

Type II blasts they have the distinguished from type I because a few
primary (azurophilic) granules are present. The nuclear/cytoplasmic
ratio also tends to be lower. This type was established by the FAB group
because the underlying dysplastic process leading to nuclear-cytoplasmic
dissociation with subsequent hypogranulation (and occasionally
hypergranulation) often makes it difficult to distinguish between blasts
and promyelocytes.

Type III blasts have 20 or more azurophilic granules without a Golgi
zone. This type was proposed by Goagsuen and Bennett because of the
observation that cells occur with features of myeloblasts lacking a
Golgi zone but with increased granules (s 6) as seen in promyelocytes
and in abnormal promyelocytes (FAB M3).


Refractory  Cytopenia (Anemia) Without Increase in Ringed  Sideroblasts

Historically, the starting point clinically for inclusion in this
subgroup is anemia (hemoglobin < 11 g/dL) with a low reticulocyte count.
although marked reticulocytosis in the range of 30% has been reported on
the basis of maturational delay.

We would like to forward a better, less inclusive, more clinically
applicable term than RA-refractory cytopenia because the anemia is often
accompanied by thrombocytopenia and/or neutropenia (usually <140x109/l
and or <4.0x109/l. Furthermore, as mentioned previously, occasionally
the neutropenia or thrombocytopenia can be isolated, ie, without
associated anemia. This category is clearly one of exclusion blast cells
should be < 1% in the peripheral blood and <5% in the bone marrow,
peripheral blood monocytes <1x 109/l and ringed sideroblasts should be
<15%. The bone marrow is typically hypercellular with moderate to marked
dyserythropoiesis solely or accompanied by
dysgranulopoiesis/dysmegakaryopoiesis. Occasional!), erythroid
hypoplasia19 occurs and rare!) this can be to the extreme of RBC



The morphological features described in RA are similar in this subgroup
with the dinning difference, of course, being a percentage of ringed
sideroblasts >15% The need for an adequate bone marrow aspirate must be
emphasized as the iron stain of the core biopsy can be falsely negative
because iron leaches out during the decalcification step. Compared with
RA(cytopenia). less associated dysgranulopoiesis, megakaryopoiesis is
present In RARS in particular a dimorphic population of RBCs is noted in
the peripheral blood attributed to deficient hemoglobinization in the
clonal erythroid population The percentage of bone marrow blast cells
must be <5%. cases of >15% ringed sideroblasts but >5% blasts or
monocytosis should be classified in the remaining subgroups. Not
surprisingly such patients have a worse prognosis in terms of overall
survival and leukemic progression.


The defining feature of this subgroup is an increase in bone marrow
blasts (5% but (20% (with peripheral Noud blasts <5%) Dysgranulopoiesis,
particularly in terms of hypogranulation and hyposegmentation. is more
pronounced than in the preceding subgroups discussed as dysplasia in the
other lineages. Compared with the first two subgroups already discussed,
patients with RAEB have a greater rate of progression to overt, acute
leukemia than patients with RA or RARS. Furthermore, the inclusion of
type III blasts can change the diagnosis particularly from RAEB to


The defining feature of this subgroup from the other four subgroups is
an absolute peripheral blood monocytosis of > 1 x 109/L. On the other
hand similar to the other subgroups, this entity shares many of the
morphological features of MDS in terms of trilineage dyspoiesis as well
as similar nonrandom chromosomal abnormalities. The degree of trilineage
dysplasia can be variable and actually appears to be less severe the
higher the peripheral blood neutrophil and monocyte counts. Often an
increase in mature granulocytes occurs and the marrow may have a
leftward shift in maturation of occasionally resembling RAEB with 5% to
20% blasts. However, the percent marrow of blasts is usually <5%. The
monocytes can exhibit several dysplastic features  hyperlobulation,
cytoplasmic granules, or increased basophilia Also, marked dysplasia can
lead to classify erroneously such cells as blasts w The more immature
monocytespromonocytesare more evident in the peripheral blood than in
the marrow.

Unlike the other FAB subgroups, CMML can have certain peculiar clinical
features that also seem to distinguish it from the other FAB

subgroupsa tendency to develop serous effusions and tissue infiltration
particularly of the skin, liver, spleen and gingiva. and increased
incidence of autoimmune phenomena ranging from polymyalgia rheumatica to
coetaneous vasculitis. These peculiar features have in part led some to
consider CMML as an entity separate from MDS. Furthermore, over time,
several other inadequacies have been noted with the inclusion of CMML as
part of MDS

(1) The poor prognostic power of CMML is evidenced by a very wide
survival range of 11 to more than 60 months in 175 patients complied
from 11 studies. This inadequacy can be rectified to some degree by
stratifying the prognosis in terms of excess blasts (> 5%) and
peripheral monocytes (>3 x109/L absolute). In general, if there are <5%
blasts are present, the survival is similar to RA or RARS (50 months)
whereas if >5% (but <20%) blasts are in the bone marrow, the survival is
similar to RAEB.  In a study by Worsley et al, the survival was also
similar to RAEB if the absolute peripheral blood monocyte count exceeded
2.6 x 109'/L.:

(2) Another inadequacy has been the difficulty in clearly distinguishing
CMML from the chronic myeloproliferative syndromes This is because their
clinical presentations can be identical hepatosplenomegaly.
leukocytosis. and occasional marrow fibrosis. Furthermore, patients with
chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) can have monocytosis (> 1 x109/L)
But, cases of CML generally involve less dysplasia, more immature
leukocytes and a higher leukocyte count. Obviously, difficulty arises in
those cases lacking the Philadelphia chromosome Those cases can then be
further classified on the basis of whether they have rearrangement
within the major breakpoint cluster region (m-bcr). The m-bcr positive
(m-bcr+) patients resemble the Philadelphia chromosome + (Ph+) patients
therefore, being essentially the same disease The m-bcr negative
(m-bcr-) patients have less leukocytosis. basophilia. and immature
myeloid precursors in the peripheral blood than the CML Ph+ m-bcr+ or
Ph- /m-bcr+ cases. Within this group of Ph-/m-bcr -cases. a distinction
can be made of those cases that fit the FAB criteria for CMML and those
cases with a higher percent of peripheral blood immature granulocytes
(10% to 20% ) and higher overall white blood cell count (usually
>13x109/l. However, these cases are related to CMML because they cases
have similar chromosomal abnormalities as noted in CMML. These cases
have been termed atypical CML. The FAB group has recently distinguished
between CML, atypical CML (aCML). and CMML on the basis of five
predictive parameters: the percent of basophils the percent of immature
granulocytes. the percent of bone marrow erythroid precursors, the
percent of monocytes, and the degree of granulocyte dysplasia. In
general, increased peripheral blood basophilia (>2%) and immature
granulocytes (>20%) are distinguishing features of CML whereas
peripheral blood monocytosis (>10%) and increased bone marrow erythroid
precursors are distinguishing features for CMML. Lastly, cases with 10%
to 20% peripheral blood immature granulocytes and 2+ granulocyte
dysplasia would be best classified as aCML.


Inclusion into this subgroup is based on one or more of the following
features: (1) the percent of bone marrow blasts of 21% to 30% and/or (2)
(5% peripheral blood blasts (with or without >21% to 30% bone marrow
blasts) and/or (3) granulocyte precursors with Auer rods even if the
percent bone marrow blasts is <20%. The latter situation was first
described by Weisdorf et al. These cases were included in RAEB-t because
they were not associated with immediate progression to AML. A study by
Scoazec et al supported this observation.  However, inclusion of these
cases has recently been questioned  because of a study from MDS. 
Anderson in which patients who were classified as RAEB-t solely on the
basis of Auer rods (n = 29) had a median survival 41 weeks longer than
the other RAEB-t patients (n = 179).

Lastly, as patients younger than the age of 50 years may respond well to
conventional chemotherapy for AML reclassification of these patients
with RAEB-t younger than the age of 50 years as FAB M2 is reasonable.


Therapy-Related MDS

As discussed by Park and Koefller in the next issue of Seminars, this
variant probably involves a continuum of pancytopenia with dysplasia and
<5% marrow blasts to frank MDS of either the RAEB or RAEB-t subgroups to
overt AML. This temporal sequence is typical for the alkylating agents
whereas the epipodophyllotoxins typically "skip" the first two phases
and present suddenly with AML. Generally, only a fifth to a half of
therapy-related MDS cases can be readily classified by the FAB
proposals, although the epipodophyllotoxins appear to be more easily
classifiable b\ the FAB criteria and usually lack dysplasia. Two major
factors making classification difficult are that (1) no predominant cell
type is dysplastic and (2) the marrow aspirate is often inadequate to
review for dysplasia as it is often hypocellular with fibrosis. As such.
physican can often have difficulties clearly identifying blasts. Ringed
sideroblasts are common. however.

In the face of inadequate marrow aspiration. core biopsy in suspected
cases of therapy-related MDS is very important. Besides revealing
fibrosis. other features noted by the biopsy that support the diagnosis
of therapy-related MDS as well as confer a poor prognosis are the
presence of ALIP and positivity for CD34 b\ immunostaining.

AML with Trilineage dysplasia

Dysplasia involving one or several lineages is not uncommon in cases of
de novo AML .  Unlike the diagnosis of primary MDS where at least  10%
of the cells of the respective lineage being considered should be
dysplastic. the cutoff is more restrictive at >50%. Dyserythropoiesis
does not appear to correlate with lower remission rate than "normals'
unlike dvsgranulopoicsis41 and probably dysmegakaryopoiesis.  About 10%
to 15% of cases will have trilineage dysplasia. These cases are more
resistant to successful induction-remission therapy than cases of de
novo AML without trilineage dysplasia with the complete remission rate
being 20% lower, although most studies have not shown a negative impact
on overall survival.  A patient with AML with trilineage dysplasia can
represent an individual with acute transformation of clinically occult
MDS or with a subtype of de novo AML. The former appears to be the case
in those patients presenting with de novo AML with trilineage dysplasia
and a history of occupational exposure. In a study by Cuneo et al of 70
adults with de novo AML. 43% had an occupational history. Those cases
had trilineage dysplasia. CD34 positivity. and chromosomal abnormalities
characteristic of therapy-related MDS/AML. 

Lastly, the presence of trilineage dysplasia after successful
remission-induction therapy for de novo AML probably portends a higher
risk of relapse.

Human Immunodeficiency  Virus-related MDS

Unlike primary MDS. no obvious increase in transformation to AML occurs
in human Immunodeficiency virus (HlV)-related MDS.*'' However, like
primary MDS the presentation is usually one of cytopenia and the bone
marrow cellularity is usually increased and occasionally, like primary
MDS. the marrow can be hypocellular. Increased marrow plasmacytosis and
increased iron deposition (without ringed sideroblasts) can occur. On
bone marrow biopsy. lymphoid aggregates, serous atrophy, granulomas. and
fibrosis can he noted. The latter two clinically correlate with
infection, particularly mycobacterium or pneumocystis.

In a review of 216 bone marrow biopsy specimens aspirates, and/or
imprint preparations. Karcher and Frost1" noted dysplastic features of
at least one lineage in  70% of the patients. Dyserythropoiesis was
noted in half the patients: multinucleation, nuclear irregularity and
internuclear chromatin bridge formation. NeM common was
dysmegakaryopoiesis noted in a third of the patients
micromegakaryu-cylcs. nuclear hyposegmentation. and nuclear
fragmentation Least common was dvsgranulopoiesis noted in about a fifth
of patients: mild nuclear, cytoplasmic dissociation, multinucle-ation,
and hypogranularity.

More than one mechanism is responsible for myelodysplasia in HIV
disease: concomitant infections (opportunistic and/or possibly HIV)
particularly because myelodysplasia correlates with the stage of HIV
infection," nutritional factors, autoimmunity. and drug effects.
Regarding the latter, Harris et al4" found dyserythropoi-esis in all
patients on azothymidine (AZT) with dysplasia besides the
megaloblastosis which is well described with AZT. Regarding the role of
infection, a recent study showed morphological similarities in the bone
marrow of HIV-positive patients and that of HIV-negative patients with
infectious disease, but not with patients with primary MDS.56

MDS With Myelofibrosis (Hyperfibrotic MDS)

Fibrosis, defined as either a focal or diffuse increase in the number
and thickness of the reticulin fibers, can be noted in approximately
half of the cases of MDS. In these, the degree of fibrosis is mild to
moderate. But, several studies have focused on MDS patients
(approximately 100 cases) with marked fibrosis, which can be termed
hyperfibrotic MDS.66-71-"6-103-'23-125 These cases are usually
characterized pathologically by a striking increase in fibrosis as well
as frequent and increased micromegakaryocytes. The megakaryocytes may be
hypolobulated or the nuclei may be fragmented.51 The clinical course is
marked by a shorter survival than usual cases of MDS: a median survival
similar to RAEB rather than RA or RARS.66-7'-86-103-'23-11' Despite the
poor prognosis of hyperfibroitic MDS, a provocative report has appeared
of three such patients who entered hematological remission after

The peripheral blood finding of leukoerythro-blastosis and tear drop
cells coupled with the increased megakaryocyles (with consequent
production of various cytokines such as platelet-derived growth factor
that can lead to fibro-sis)2'-51 has led to speculation that
hyperfibrotic MDS is actually a myeloproliferative syn-drome.2'' Some
individuals do have hepato-splenomegaly with ferrokinetic studies
supportive of extramedullary hematopoiesis"2 leading Reilly and Dolan91
to suggest the term transitional mvelodysplasia-myelofibrosis which may
straddle several entities51:

1. Hyperfibrotic MDSas described above with trilincagc dysplasia,
absent hepato-splenomegaly, bone marrow blasts are moderately increased
in the 10% to 20% range.

2. Acute myelosclerosisrapidly fatal course with more pronounced
fibrosis than hyperfibrotic MDS but like "hyperfibrotic" MDS,
hepatosplenomegaly is typically absent.

3. Acute megakaryoblastic leukemia AML, M7defining feature compared to
the two above entities, is a blast population > 30% with immunostaining
showing the blasts to be megakaryocytic.'"

4. Myeloid metaplasia with myelofibrosis trilineage bone marrow
dysplasia is lacking while moderate to marked spleno-megaly helps
separate this entity from "hyperfibrotic" MDS.

Hypoplastic MDS

About 10% to 15%; of MDS bone marrows are hypocellular.73-113 defined as
a cellularity less than 25% to 30%, and <20% in patients older than the
age of 60 years."7 This feature also appears to be more common a finding
in MDS than in AML."* But cases of hypocellular AML can be confused with
hypocellular MDS.5" Rarely is the hypocellularity less than 10% as noted
in aplastic anemia.33 Distinguishing features of hypocellular MDS from
aplastic anemia ma> be the presence of ALIP, islands of ery-throid
precursors, dysmegakaryopoiesis, and megakaryoblasts as shown by
immunostaining.38 Whether hypocellularity confers a poor prognosis is
unclear, with studies showing a worse prognosis,83 IM while more recent
studies show no negative impact."3-"1"33

Early MDS

Finally, what about cases lacking overt dysplasia in which all of the
above disorders as well as the various medical conditions associated
with dysplasia have been excluded but an unexplain-able abnormality
persists in the peripheral blood such as a macrocytosis without anemia
or mono-cytosis? These are cases that Dr Terry Hamblin has referred to.
perhaps tongue in cheek, as NYMDS 
potentially curative treatment ' However, this choice is usually not
available because of the patient s age or lack of a suitable human
lymphocyte antigen BM donor.

The use of nonspecific differentiation inducing agents
(1,25dihydroxy-vitamin D, retinoic acid, danazol, 5-azacytidine) as
single-agent therapy was found not to be beneficial.

Hematopoietic growth factors play a critical physiologic role in the
control of hemaiopoiesis in vivo. With the availability of recombinant
human hematopoietic growth factors the potential therapeutic efficacy of
these agents in MDS has been examined by several groups.-15
Erythro-poietin (EPO) stimulates the hemoglobin concentration in about
20% of anemic patients, and in some of these patients eliminates their
transfusion requirement. High doses of EPO were used because endogenous
serum EPO levels are usually increased in MDS patients. The mechanism of
its occasional effectiveness is not understood.37-14M78(t7
lnterleukin-3 (1L-3) promotes the proliferation of multipotent
hematopoietic stem cells. Clinical trials with recombinant human IL3 in
MDS have resulted in hematopoietic improvement in only few patients
without lasting effects.

Significant improvement in neutrophil counts have been found in MDS
patients treated with either granutocyte colony stimulating factor
(G-CSF) or granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF).
The observed enhancement of in vitro granulocytic functions by
stimulating polymorphonuclear neutrophils with G-CSF or GM-CSF seems to
be the reason for a lower incidence of infections in MDS patients
treated with either G-CSF or GM-CSF.-'i28""1^-^"5 Administration of
these growth factors may not affect overall survival.

d-lnterferon has been used in a few patients with MDS. Especially after
6 or more months of administration, some patients have benefited because
of endogenous stimulation of hematopoietic growth factors.3"

At present the aim to eliminate the malignant clone from the BM by using
single agents remains elusive. 3:3SM Therefore, further studies using
combination therapy with various potential inducers of hematopoietic
differentiation (nonspecific and specific, eg, retinoid acid.
a-in-terferon and G-CSF) are necessary, some of which are ongoing.