Mice models and prenatal studies indicate that in childhood ALL the individual genetic lesions alone are insufficient to generate a full leukemic phenotype, and cooperating oncogenic lesions are required. Recently, multiple genome-wide studies on childhood ALL (1–18 years) identified deletions at several loci, mainly affecting genes that play a critical role in regulating B cell development and differentiation. By contrast, the prenatal and postnatal steps in the pathogenesis of Infant ALL (less than 1 year at diagnosis) are not defined. Infant ALL is a very aggressive disease, with t(4;11)/MLL-AF4 fusion representing the major subgroup. Although the very short latency period suggests that leukemogenic events occur prenatally, mice models indicates that MLL-AF4 alone is not sufficient to induce leukemia, and additional mutations may occur. Also unclear is whether the molecular pathways needed for lymphoid cell differentiation are altered in cases with an MLL rearrangement and, if so, whether these alterations differ between the leukemia of infants and older children. Aim of this study was to detect MLL-cooperating aberrations, undetectable by conventional techniques, by using genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genome wide analysis (100K SNP human mapping, Affymetrix). More specifically, we searched for Loss of Heterozygosity (LOH) associated or not to copy number alteration. The identification of these lesions could help identifying leukemia pathogenesis, as well as providing the basis for targeted therapy. We have analyzed 28 cases of Infant ALL with t(4;11) at diagnosis and their corresponding samples at remission, when available (n=18). SNP data were analyzed by using dChip software, and confirmed by CNAG 2.0. A more dense SNP array analysis (250K) has been applied in selected cases to confirm LOH and precisely dissect the affected chromosomal regions. Compared to older childhood ALL patients, a far limited number of deletions/amplifications has been found; only 2/28 patients showed deletions, namely 1p36.33-p36.31 in 1 patient and 3p11.1-p12.2 plus 7q22.1-q22.2 in another patient, while 26/28 Infant ALL did not present any visible structural variation. Different from older children, several segmental copy-number neutral (CNN) LOH have been detected by dChip. The extension and prevalence of the affected regions was variable; among them 6p21.32 (4/28 cases), 7q31.33-q32.1 (3/28), 8q21.12-q21.3 (2/28), 8q24.11 (2/28) and 14q21.2 (2/28). Overall, these results confirm that Infant ALL with t(4;11)/MLL-AF4 fusion represents a biologically unique disease, different from other type of leukemia occurring in older children. While in older children a multistep mechanism (with the involvement of several genes) is required for the full leukemic phenotype, MLL rearrangements per se might play a major role on the leukemogenesis. By this approach it could not be excluded that different mechanisms could cooperate with MLL in transforming cells, including point mutations. The functional role of CNN-LOH still needs to be understood: they could either reflect the duplication of oncogenic mutations, or be related to epigenetic mechanisms.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.