The APL0406 study showed that arsenic trioxide (ATO) and all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) are not inferior to standard ATRA and chemotherapy (CHT) in newly diagnosed, low-intermediaterisk acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL). We analysed the kinetics of promyelocytic leukaemia-retinoic acid receptor-α (PML-RARα) transcripts by real-time quantitative PCR (RQ-PCR) in bone marrow samples from 184 patients and assessed the prognostic impact of fms-related tyrosine kinase 3-internal tandem duplication (FLT3-ITD) in 159 patients enrolled in this trial in Italy. After induction therapy, the reduction of PML-RARα transcripts was significantly greater in patients receiving ATRA-CHT as compared with those treated with ATRA-ATO (3.4 vs 2.9 logs; P = 0.0182). Conversely, at the end of consolidation, a greater log reduction of PML-RARα transcripts was detected in the ATRA-ATO as compared with the ATRA-CHT group (6.3 vs 5.3 logs; P = 0.0024). FLT3-ITD mutations had no significant impact on either event-free survival (EFS) or cumulative incidence of relapse in patients receiving ATRA-ATO, whereas a trend for inferior EFS was observed in FLT3-ITD-positive patients receiving ATRA-CHT. Our study shows at the molecular level that ATRA-ATO exerts at least equal and probably superior antileukaemic efficacy compared with ATRA-CHT in low-intermediaterisk APL. The data also suggest that ATRA-ATO may abrogate the negative prognostic impact of FLT3-ITD.