Myelodysplastic syndromes

Hematology Am Soc Hematol Educ Program. 2002:136-61. doi: 10.1182/asheducation-2002.1.136.


The myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are characterized by hemopoietic insufficiency associated with cytopenias leading to serious morbidity plus the additional risk of leukemic transformation. Therapeutic dilemmas exist in MDS because of the disease's multifactorial pathogenetic features, heterogeneous stages, and the patients' generally elderly ages. Underlying the cytopenias and evolutionary potential in MDS are innate stem cell lesions, cellular/cytokine-mediated stromal defects, and immunologic derangements. This article reviews the developing understanding of biologic and molecular lesions in MDS and recently available biospecific drugs that are potentially capable of abrogating these abnormalities. Dr. Peter Greenberg's discussion centers on decision-making approaches for these therapeutic options, considering the patient's clinical factors and risk-based prognostic category. One mechanism underlying the marrow failure present in a portion of MDS patients is immunologic attack on the hemopoietic stem cells. Considerable overlap exists between aplastic anemia, paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, and subsets of MDS. Common or intersecting pathophysiologic mechanisms appear to underlie hemopoietic cell destruction and genetic instability, which are characteristic of these diseases. Treatment results and new therapeutic strategies using immune modulation, as well as the role of the immune system in possible mechanisms responsible for genetic instability in MDS, will be the subject of discussion by Dr. Neal Young. A common morphological change found within MDS marrow cells, most sensitively demonstrated by electron microscopy, is the presence of ringed sideroblasts. Such assessment shows that this abnormal mitochondrial iron accumulation is not confined to the refractory anemia with ring sideroblast (RARS) subtype of MDS and may also contribute to numerous underlying MDS pathophysiological processes. Generation of abnormal sideroblast formation appears to be due to malfunction of the mitochondrial respiratory chain, attributable to mutations of mitochondrial DNA, to which aged individuals are most vulnerable. Such dysfunction leads to accumulation of toxic ferric iron in the mitochondrial matrix. Understanding the broad biologic consequences of these derangements is the focus of the discussion by Dr. Norbert Gattermann.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Sideroblastic / etiology
  • Anemia, Sideroblastic / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / genetics
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Diseases / pathology
  • Myelodysplastic Syndromes / diagnosis
  • Myelodysplastic Syndromes / therapy*
  • Pancytopenia / chemically induced
  • Pancytopenia / immunology*
  • Prognosis


  • Immunosuppressive Agents