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Metaphase-FISH (fluorescence in situ hybridization) was used to detect cells with a chromosomal trisomy and/or translocation in 25 patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in remission. Twelve patients were treated with chemotherapy alone and 13 patients received bone marrow transplantation after initial chemotherapy. Patients were followed up for 8-56 months (median 18 months). In this study, a total of 82 bone marrow samples were analyzed. Metaphase-FISH identified chromosome morphology, even banding, in cells from which FISH signals were studied. Thus, it is as reliable as standard karyotype analysis and does not cause false positive results. Furthermore, more than 1000 cells can be analyzed in 3-6 h which equals the time it takes to analyze 20 metaphases by standard karyotype. The time span before the first positive sample seems to be insignificant with regard to the outcome of relapse. All six patients, who had more than 1% of abnormal cells detected at any sampling or whose consecutive follow-up samples showed an increasing frequency (up to 1%) of abnormal cells, relapsed. Absence or occurrence of low numbers of abnormal cells at a frequency of 0.05-0.8% followed by their disappearance was in agreement with continuing complete clinical and hematologic remission (CR) in 16 (84%) of 19 patients. Our results indicate that metaphase-FISH is a reliable technique for quantifying residual leukemic cells. The technique is available in standard cytogenetic laboratories and can be applied to routine follow-up of ALL patients who have a suitable chromosomal aberration.