We studied a model of in vivo purging with Rituximab and high-dose (HD) cytarabine in 14 patients with relapsed/refractory follicular lymphoma and two with refractory mantle cell lymphoma enrolled in a program of HD chemotherapy and autotransplant. After two courses of debulking immunochemotherapy with Rituximab, Vincristine and Cyclophosphamide, we used a combination of Rituximab, HD cytarabine and granulocyte colony-stimulating factor for peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) mobilization. The median number of CD34+ cells collected was 14.69 x 10(6)/kg (range 5.74-73.2). Monitoring of peripheral CD19+ and CD20+ B cells prior to and throughout the purging period showed that a treatment with Rituximab, Vincristine and Cyclophosphamide results in a profound depletion of B cells in peripheral blood. B-cell depletion persists during mobilization with Rituximab and HD cytarabine allowing a collection of PBSC free of B cells (median CD19+ and CD20+ cells counts 0%). Of nine patients PCR positive for bcl-2 or bcl-1 in blood and marrow at the start of immunochemotherapy, all showed PCR-negative PBSC. In conclusion, in patients with indolent lymphoma, the concurrent administration of Rituximab and HD cytarabine is a safe and efficient method to obtain in vivo purged PBSC. Immunochemotherapy prior to mobilization produces B-cell depletion and seems to be a useful preparative step.
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