Background: Immunodeficiency in ataxia telangiectasia (A-T) is less severe in patients expressing some mutant or normal ATM kinase activity. We, therefore, determined whether expression of residual ATM kinase activity also protected against tumour development in A-T.
Methods: From a total of 296 consecutive genetically confirmed A-T patients from the British Isles and the Netherlands, we identified 66 patients who developed a malignant tumour; 47 lymphoid tumours and 19 non-lymphoid tumours were diagnosed. We determined their ATM mutations, and whether cells from these patients expressed any ATM with residual ATM kinase activity.
Results: In childhood, total absence of ATM kinase activity was associated, almost exclusively, with development of lymphoid tumours. There was an overwhelming preponderance of tumours in patients <16 years without kinase activity compared with those with some residual activity, consistent with a substantial protective effect of residual ATM kinase activity against tumour development in childhood. In addition, the presence of eight breast cancers in A-T patients, a 30-fold increased risk, establishes breast cancer as part of the A-T phenotype.
Conclusion: Overall, a spectrum of tumour types is associated with A-T, consistent with involvement of ATM in different mechanisms of tumour formation. Tumour type was influenced by ATM allelic heterogeneity, residual ATM kinase activity and age.