BACKGROUND In patients with acquired aplastic anemia, destruction of hematopoietic cells by the immune system leads to pancytopenia. Patients have a response to immunosuppressive therapy, but myelodysplastic syndromes and acute myeloid leukemia develop in about 15% of the patients, usually many months to years after the diagnosis of aplastic anemia. METHODS We performed next-generation sequencing and array-based karyotyping using 668 blood samples obtained from 439 patients with aplastic anemia. We analyzed serial samples obtained from 82 patients. RESULTS Somatic mutations in myeloid cancer candidate genes were present in one third of the patients, in a limited number of genes and at low initial variant allele frequency. Clonal hematopoiesis was detected in 47% of the patients, most frequently as acquired mutations. The prevalence of the mutations increased with age, and mutations had an age-related signature. DNMT3A-mutated and ASXL1-mutated clones tended to increase in size over time; the size of BCOR- And BCORL1-mutated and PIGA-mutated clones decreased or remained stable. Mutations in PIGA and BCOR and BCORL1 correlated with a better response to immunosuppressive therapy and longer and a higher rate of overall and progression-free survival; mutations in a subgroup of genes that included DNMT3A and ASXL1 were associated with worse outcomes. However, clonal dynamics were highly variable and might not necessarily have predicted the response to therapy and long-term survival among individual patients. CONCLUSIONS Clonal hematopoiesis was prevalent in aplastic anemia. Some mutations were related to clinical outcomes. A highly biased set of mutations is evidence of Darwinian selection in the failed bone marrow environment. The pattern of somatic clones in individual patients over time was variable and frequently unpredictable.
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