Two general types of clonal chromosome abnormality are observed in de novo acute myeloid leukemia (AML): the unbalanced aberrations with visible gain or loss of chromosome material and the balanced aberrations without such visible gain or loss. AML can be induced by therapy with cytostatic drugs and radiation. The alkylating agents reacting directly with DNA induce AML which often presents as myelodysplasia with unbalanced aberrations, primarily loss of chromosome material. Cytostatic agents targeting DNA-topoisomerase II, frequently administered together with alkylating agents or cisplatin, induce the same type of leukemia. In addition, they often induce another type with a more rapid onset and with specific balanced chromosome aberrations rarely observed after therapy with alkylating agents alone. All of the most important chromosome aberrations found in de novo AML are now also found in therapy-related AML (t-AML); thus, t- AML may serve as a model in the search for mechanisms leading to the development of AML in general. Unbalanced chromosome aberrations with partial deletions or with loss of whole chromosomes may develop as a result of alkylation of DNA or other cellular targets. Balanced chromosome aberrations, on the other hand, may develop as illegitimate recombinations related to the activity of DNA-topoisomerase II. The balanced translocations contribute to malignant transformation by the formation of abnormal chimeric genes, whereas deletions may contribute by the loss of putative tumor suppressor genes. In either situation, the chromosome changes provide the altered cells with a proliferative advantage compared with normal cells.

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