False-positive flow cytometric platelet glycoprotein IIb/IIIa expression in myeloid leukemias secondary to platelet adherence to blasts

Stephen A. Betz, Kathy Foucar, David R. Head, I. Ming Chen, Cheryl L. Willman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Because neither morphologic nor routine cytochemical features are pathognomonic, the diagnosis of acute megakaryoblastic leukemia (AML-M7) is difficult, requiring either specialized ultrastructural or immunologic techniques. Because the ultrastructural techniques are cumbersome, immunologic assays for expression of several platelet-specific antigens, such as CD41a (platelet glycoprotein IIb/IIIa), have become the primary method used to detect megakaryoblastic differentiation. In our flow cytometric analysis of the immunophenotypes of over 1,000 cases of AML from patients registered to Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) Treatment Protocols, we found that 38% of cases demonstrated CD41a reactivity. Because this frequency of CD41a expression by flow cytometry greatly exceeded the number of morphologically defined cases of AML-M7, we postulated that the reaction may be caused by platelets adherent to leukemic blasts. To investigate this hypothesis, we performed a side-by-side comparison of flow cytometric and cytospin immunofluorescence studies on 37 cases of adult de novo AML that demonstrated a wide range of CD41a expression by flow cytometric analyses. We found that the expression of CD41a detected by flow cytometric techniques was secondary to adherent platelets or platelet fragments in 85% of cases. Many of these cases also expressed the lineage-specific carbohydrate, LNF III (CD15), which may mediate platelet adhesion to mature monocytes and neutrophils. Only 15% of the CD41a flow cytometrically positive cases demonstrated true diffuse membrane and cytoplasmic positivity on cytospin slides indicative of megakaryoblastic differentiation. Cytospin immunofluorescence for CD41a should be performed on all cases of suspected AML-M7. If only flow cytometric techniques are used, adherent platelets may result in the erroneous diagnosis of this AML subtype.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2399-2403
Number of pages5
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Immunology
  • Hematology
  • Cell Biology


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