Down syndrome and malignancies: a unique clinical relationship: a paper from the 2008 william beaumont hospital symposium on molecular pathology

J Mol Diagn. 2009 Sep;11(5):371-80. doi: 10.2353/jmoldx.2009.080132.


The patterns of malignancies in Down syndrome (DS) are unique and highlight the relationship between chromosome 21 and cancer. DS children have a approximately 10- to 20-fold higher risk for developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia (AML), as compared with non-DS children, although they do not have a uniformly increased risk of developing solid tumors. DS children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia frequently experience higher levels of treatment-related toxicity and inferior event-free survival rates, as compared with non-DS children. DS children also develop AML with unique features and have a 500-fold increased risk of developing the AML subtype, acute megakaryocytic leukemia (AMkL; M7). Nearly 10% of DS newborns are diagnosed with a variant of AMkL, the transient myeloproliferative disorder, which can resolve spontaneously without treatment; event-free survival rates for DS patients with AMkL ranges from 80% to 100%, in comparison with <30% for non-DS children with AMkL. In addition, somatic mutations of the GATA1 gene have been detected in nearly all DS TMD and AMkL cases and not in leukemia cases in non-DS children. GATA1 mutations are key factors linked to both leukemogenesis and the high cure rates of DS AMkL patients. Identifying the mechanisms that account for the high event-free survival rates of DS AMkL patients may ultimately improve AML treatment as well. Examining leukemogenesis in DS children may identify factors linked to the general development of childhood leukemia and lead to potential new therapeutic strategies to fight this disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Down Syndrome / complications*
  • Down Syndrome / genetics*
  • GATA1 Transcription Factor / genetics
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Megakaryoblastic, Acute / epidemiology
  • Leukemia, Megakaryoblastic, Acute / etiology
  • Leukemia, Megakaryoblastic, Acute / genetics
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / epidemiology
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / etiology
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / genetics
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / epidemiology
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / etiology
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / genetics


  • GATA1 Transcription Factor
  • GATA1 protein, human