Involvement of the central nervous system (CNS) in childhood leukemias remains a major cause of treatment failures. Analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid constitutes the most important diagnostic pillar in the detection of CNS leukemia and relies primarily on cytological and flow-cytometry studies. With increasing survival rates, it has become clear that treatments for pediatric leukemias pose a toll on the developing brain, as they may cause acute toxicities and persistent neurocognitive deficits. Preclinical research has demonstrated that established and newer therapies can injure and even destroy neuronal and glial cells in the brain. Both passive and active cell death forms can result from DNA damage, oxidative stress, cytokine release, and acceleration of cell aging. In addition, chemotherapy agents may impair neurogenesis as well as the function, formation, and plasticity of synapses. Clinical studies show that neurocognitive toxicity of chemotherapy is greatest in younger children. This raises concerns that, in addition to injury, chemotherapy may also disrupt crucial developmental events resulting in impairment of the formation and efficiency of neuronal networks. This review presents an overview of studies demonstrating that cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers can be utilized in tracing both CNS disease and neurotoxicity of administered treatments in childhood leukemias.
Keywords: CNS leukemia; cell death; central nervous system; neurocognitive outcome; neurotoxicity; synaptic plasticity.