AML through the prism of molecular genetics

Br J Haematol. 2020 Jan;188(1):49-62. doi: 10.1111/bjh.16356.


Modern management of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) relies on the integration of phenotypic and genetic data to assign classification, establish prognosis, enhance monitoring and guide treatment. The prism through which we can now disperse a patient's leukaemia, interpret and apply our understanding has fundamentally changed since the completion of the first whole-genome sequencing (WGS) of an AML patient in 2008 and where possible, many clinicians would now prefer to delay treatment decisions until the karyotype and genetic status of a new patient is known. The success of global sequencing initiatives such as The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) have brought us significantly closer to cataloguing the full spectrum of coding mutations involved in human malignancy. Indeed, genetic capability has raced ahead of our capacity to apply much of this knowledge into clinical practice and we are in the peculiar position of having routine access to genetic information on an individual patient's leukaemia that cannot be reliably interpreted or utilised. This is a measure of how rapid the progress has been, and this rate of change is likely to continue into the foreseeable future as research intensifies on the non-coding genome and the epigenome, as we scrutinise disease at a single cell level, and as initiatives like Beat AML and the Harmony Alliance progress. In this review, we will examine how interrogation of the coding genome is revolutionising our understanding of AML and improving our ability to underscore differences between paediatric and adult onset, sporadic and inherited forms of disease. We will look at how this knowledge is informing improvements in outcome prediction and the development of novel treatments, bringing us a step closer to personalised therapy for myeloid malignancy.

Keywords: acute myeloid leukaemia; germline predisposition; molecular genetics; next generation sequencing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Genetic*
  • Epigenome*
  • Genome, Human*
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / genetics*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / pathology
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / therapy
  • Mutation*
  • Whole Genome Sequencing*