Children with Down syndrome (DS) are at a 20-fold increased risk for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Compared to children with ALL and no DS (non-DS-ALL), those with DS and ALL (DS-ALL) harbor uncommon genetic alterations, suggesting DS-ALL could have distinct biological features. Recent studies have implicated several genes on chromosome 21 in DS-ALL, but the precise mechanisms predisposing children with DS to ALL remain unknown. Our integrated genetic/epigenetic analysis revealed that DS-ALL was highly heterogeneous with many subtypes. Although each subtype had genetic/epigenetic profiles similar to those found in non-DS-ALL, the subtype distribution differed significantly between groups. The Philadelphia chromosome-like subtype, a high-risk B-cell lineage variant relatively rare among the entire pediatric ALL population, was the most common form in DS-ALL. Hypermethylation of RUNX1 on chromosome 21 was also found in DS-ALL, but not non-DS-ALL. RUNX1 is essential for differentiation of blood cells, especially B cells; thus, hypermethylation of the RUNX1 promoter in B-cell precursors might be associated with increased incidence of B-cell precursor ALL in DS patients.
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