This report summarises the current knowledge regarding the clinical utility of biochemical enzyme markers for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes in acute leukaemia. The enzymes studied most extensively in this field are terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase, adenosine deaminase, 5'-nucleotidase, purine nucleoside phosphorylase, and acid phosphatase, esterase, hexosaminidase isoenzymes. For each enzyme, the quantitative and qualitative characteristics in various immunologically defined subclasses of acute leukaemia are described. The quantitative evaluation of enzyme activities represents an adjunctive classification technique which should be incorporated into the multivariate analysis, the "multiple marker analysis." By qualitative characterisation pronounced heterogeneity of leukaemia subsets is uncovered. The application of 2'-deoxycoformycin, a specific inhibitor of adenosine deaminase, and the potential usefulness of two other enzymes as targets for treatment with selective agents is discussed. The concept that gene products expressed at certain developmental stages of normal cells can similarly be detected in leukaemic cells (which therefore seem to be "frozen" or "arrested" at this particular maturation/differentiation stage) is supported by the results obtained in enzyme studies. Besides their practical clinical importance for classification and treatment of acute leukaemias, biochemical enzyme markers constitute a valuable research tool to disclose biological properties of leukaemic cells.
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