Rearrangements of chromosome band 11q23 are common in infant leukemias, comprising more than 70% of the observed chromosome abnormalities in children less than 1 year of age. The MLL gene, which is located at the 11q23 breakpoint in infant, childhood, and adult acute leukemias, has been cloned and has homology to the Drosophila trithorax gene. The breakpoints in MLL are restricted to an 8.3-kilobase pair (kb) region of the gene that is involved in translocations with as many as 29 other chromosomal regions in a number of phenotypically distinct acute leukemias. We have detected an identical, clonal, nonconstitutional rearrangement of the MLL gene in peripheral blood cells from a pair of female infants twins with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and a t(11;19)(q23;p13.3). The detection of nonidentical IGH rearrangements suggests that the MLL rearrangement took place in a B-cell precursor or hematopoietic stem cell in one twin which was transferred in utero to the other fetus resulting in ALL with an identical aneuploid karyotype in both infants. We speculate that the other MLL-related infant leukemias may also develop in utero, and that the rearrangements may occur consistently in stem cells or early precursor cells, accounting for the frequency of mixed-lineage leukemia in infants.

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