Childhood Cancer Genomics (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI]

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General Information About Childhood Cancer Genomics

Research teams from around the world have made remarkable progress in the past decade in elucidating the genomic landscape of most types of childhood cancer. A decade ago it was possible to hope that targetable oncogenes, such as activated tyrosine kinases, might be identified in a high percentage of childhood cancers. However, it is now clear that the genomic landscape of childhood cancer is highly varied, and in many cases is quite distinctive from that of the common adult cancers.

There are examples of genomic lesions that have provided immediate therapeutic direction, including the following:

  • NPM-ALK fusion genes associated with anaplastic large cell lymphoma cases.
  • ALK point mutations associated with a subset of neuroblastoma cases.
  • BRAF and other kinase genomic alterations associated with subsets of pediatric glioma cases.
  • Hedgehog pathway mutations associated with a subset of medulloblastoma cases.
  • ABL family genes activated by translocation in a subset of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cases.

For some cancers, the genomic findings have been highly illuminating in the identification of genomically defined subsets of patients within histologies that have distinctive biological features and distinctive clinical characteristics (particularly in terms of prognosis). In some instances, identification of these subtypes has resulted in early clinical translation as exemplified by the WNT subgroup of medulloblastoma. Because of its excellent outcome, the WNT subgroup will be studied separately in future medulloblastoma clinical trials so that reductions in therapy can be evaluated with the goal of maintaining favorable outcome while reducing long-term morbidity. However, the prognostic significance of the recurring genomic lesions for some other cancers remains to be defined.

A key finding from genomic studies is the extent to which the molecular characteristics of childhood cancers correlate with their tissue (cell) of origin. As with most adult cancers, mutations in childhood cancers do not arise at random, but rather are linked in specific constellations to disease categories. A few examples include the following:

  • The presence of H3.3 and H3.1 K27 mutations almost exclusively among pediatric midline high-grade gliomas.
  • The loss of SMARCB1 in rhabdoid tumors.
  • The presence of RELA translocations in supratentorial ependymomas.
  • The presence of specific fusion proteins in different pediatric sarcomas.

Another theme across multiple childhood cancers is the contribution of mutations of genes involved in normal development of the tissue of origin of the cancer and the contribution of genes involved in epigenomic regulation.

Structural variations play an important role for many childhood cancers. Translocations resulting in oncogenic fusion genes or overexpression of oncogenes play a central role, particularly for the leukemias and sarcomas. However, for other childhood cancers that are primarily characterized by structural variations, functional fusion genes are not produced. Mechanisms by which these recurring structural variations have oncogenic effects have been identified for osteosarcoma (translocations confined to the first intron of TP53) and medulloblastoma (structural variants juxtapose GFI1 or GFI1B coding sequences proximal to active enhancer elements leading to transcriptional activation [enhancer hijacking]).[1,2] However, the oncogenic mechanisms of action for recurring structural variations of other childhood cancers (e.g., the segmental chromosomal alterations in neuroblastoma) need to be elucidated.

Understanding of the contribution of germline mutations to childhood cancer etiology is being advanced by the application of whole-genome and exome sequencing to cohorts of children with cancer. Estimates for rates of pathogenic germline mutations approaching 10% have emerged from studies applying these sequencing methods to childhood cancer cohorts.[3,4,5] In some cases, the pathogenic germline mutations are clearly contributory to the patient's cancer (e.g., TP53 mutations arising in the context of Li-Fraumeni syndrome), whereas in other cases the contribution of the germline mutation to the patient's cancer is less clear (e.g., mutations in adult cancer predisposition genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 that have an undefined role in childhood cancer predisposition).[4,5] The frequency of germline mutations varies by tumor type (e.g., lower for neuroblastoma and higher for osteosarcoma),[5] and many of the identified germline mutations fit into known predisposition syndromes (e.g., DICER1 for pleuropulmonary blastoma, SMARCB1 and SMARCA4 for rhabdoid tumor and small cell ovarian cancer, TP53 for adrenocortical carcinoma and Li-Fraumeni syndrome cancers, RB1 for retinoblastoma, etc.). The germline contribution to the development of specific cancers is discussed in the disease-specific sections that follow.

Each section of this document is meant to provide readers with a brief summary of current knowledge about the genomic landscape of specific childhood cancers, an understanding that is critical in considering how to apply precision medicine concepts to childhood cancers.


  1. Northcott PA, Lee C, Zichner T, et al.: Enhancer hijacking activates GFI1 family oncogenes in medulloblastoma. Nature 511 (7510): 428-34, 2014.
  2. Chen X, Bahrami A, Pappo A, et al.: Recurrent somatic structural variations contribute to tumorigenesis in pediatric osteosarcoma. Cell Rep 7 (1): 104-12, 2014.
  3. Mody RJ, Wu YM, Lonigro RJ, et al.: Integrative Clinical Sequencing in the Management of Refractory or Relapsed Cancer in Youth. JAMA 314 (9): 913-25, 2015.
  4. Parsons DW, Roy A, Yang Y, et al.: Diagnostic Yield of Clinical Tumor and Germline Whole-Exome Sequencing for Children With Solid Tumors. JAMA Oncol : , 2016.
  5. Zhang J, Walsh MF, Wu G, et al.: Germline Mutations in Predisposition Genes in Pediatric Cancer. N Engl J Med 373 (24): 2336-46, 2015.


Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

The genomics of childhood ALL has been extensively investigated and multiple distinctive subtypes based on cytogenetic and molecular characterizations have been defined, each with its own pattern of clinical and prognostic characteristics.[1] Figure 1 illustrates the distribution of ALL cases by cytogenetic/molecular subtype.[1]
Pie chart showing subclassification of childhood ALL.
Figure 1. Subclassification of childhood ALL. Blue wedges refer to B-progenitor ALL, yellow to recently identified subtypes of B-ALL, and red wedges to T-lineage ALL.

The genomic landscape of B-precursor ALL is typified by a range of genomic alterations that disrupt normal B-cell development and in some cases by mutations in genes that provide a proliferation signal (e.g., activating mutations in RAS family genes or mutations/translocations leading to kinase pathway signaling). Genomic alterations leading to blockage of B-cell development include translocations (e.g., TCF3-PBX1 and ETV6-RUNX1), point mutations (e.g., IKZF1 and PAX5), and intragenic/intergenic deletions (e.g., IKZF1, PAX5, EBF, and ERG).[2]

The genomic alterations in B-precursor ALL tend not to occur at random, but rather to cluster within subtypes that can be delineated by biological characteristics such as their gene expression profiles. Cases with recurring chromosomal translocations (e.g., TCF3-PBX1 and ETV6-RUNX1, and MLL (KMT2A)-rearranged ALL) have distinctive biological features and illustrate this point, as do the examples below of specific genomic alterations within distinctive biological subtypes:

  • IKZF1 deletions and mutations are most commonly observed within cases of Philadelphia chromosome–positive (Ph+) ALL and Ph-like ALL.[3,4]
  • Intragenic ERG deletions occur within a distinctive subtype characterized by this alteration and lacking other recurring cytogenetic alterations associated with pediatric B-precursor ALL.[5,6,7]
  • TP53 mutations occur at high frequency in patients with low hypodiploid ALL with 32 to 39 chromosomes, and the TP53 mutations in these patients are often germline.[8]TP53 mutations are uncommon in other patients with B-precursor ALL.

Activating point mutations in kinase genes are uncommon in high-risk B-precursor ALL, and JAK genes are the primary kinases that are found to be mutated. These mutations are generally observed in patients with Ph-like ALL that have CRLF2 abnormalities, although JAK2 mutations are also observed in approximately 15% of children with Down syndrome ALL.[4,9,10] Several kinase genes and cytokine receptor genes are activated by translocation as described below in the discussion of Ph-positive ALL and Ph-like ALL. FLT3 mutations occur in a minority of cases (approximately 10%) of hyperdiploid ALL and MLL (KMT2A)-rearranged ALL, and are rare in other subtypes.[11]

Understanding of the genomics of B-precursor ALL at relapse is less advanced than understanding of ALL genomics at diagnosis. Childhood ALL is often polyclonal at diagnosis and under the selective influence of therapy, some clones may be extinguished and new clones with distinctive genomic profiles may arise.[12] Of particular importance are new mutations that arise at relapse that may be selected by specific components of therapy. As an example, mutations in NT5C2 are not found at diagnosis whereas specific mutations in NT5C2 were observed in 7 of 44 (16%) and 9 of 20 (45%) cases of B-precursor ALL with early relapse that were evaluated for this mutation.[12,13]NT5C2 mutations are uncommon in patients with late relapse, and they appear to induce resistance to 6-mercaptopurine and thioguanine.[13] Another gene that is found mutated only at relapse is PRSP1, a gene involved purine biosynthesis.[14] Mutations were observed in 13.0% of a Chinese cohort and 2.7% of a German cohort, and were observed in patients with on-treatment relapses. The PRSP1 mutations observed in relapsed cases induce resistance to thiopurines in leukemia cell lines. CREBBP mutations are also enriched at relapse and appear to be associated with increased resistance to glucocorticoids.[12,15] With increased understanding of the genomics of relapse, it may be possible to tailor upfront therapy to avoid relapse or detect resistance-inducing mutations early and intervene before a frank relapse.

Specific genomic and chromosomal alterations are provided below, with a focus on their prognostic significance.

A number of recurrent chromosomal abnormalities have been shown to have prognostic significance, especially in B-precursor ALL. Some chromosomal abnormalities are associated with more favorable outcomes, such as high hyperdiploidy (51–65 chromosomes) and the ETV6-RUNX1 fusion. Others historically have been associated with a poorer prognosis, including the Philadelphia chromosome (t(9;22)), rearrangements of the MLL gene (chromosome 11q23), and intrachromosomal amplification of the AML1 gene (iAMP21).[16]

Chromosomal abnormalities in childhood B-precursor ALL, many of which have prognostic significance and some of which are used for treatment allocation, include the following:

  1. Chromosome number
    • High hyperdiploidy

      High hyperdiploidy, defined as 51 to 65 chromosomes per cell or a DNA index greater than 1.16, occurs in 20% to 25% of cases of precursor B-cell ALL, but very rarely in cases of T-cell ALL.[17] Hyperdiploidy can be evaluated by measuring the DNA content of cells (DNA index) or by karyotyping. In cases with a normal karyotype or in which standard cytogenetic analysis was unsuccessful, interphase fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) may detect hidden hyperdiploidy. High hyperdiploidy generally occurs in cases with clinically favorable prognostic factors (patients aged 1 to <10 years with a low white blood cell [WBC] count) and is itself an independent favorable prognostic factor.[17,18,19] Within the hyperdiploid range of 51 to 66 chromosomes, patients with higher modal numbers (58–66) appeared to have a better prognosis in one study.[19] Hyperdiploid leukemia cells are particularly susceptible to undergoing apoptosis and accumulate higher levels of methotrexate and its active polyglutamate metabolites,[20] which may explain the favorable outcome commonly observed in these cases.

      While the overall outcome of patients with high hyperdiploidy is considered to be favorable, factors such as age, WBC count, specific trisomies, and early response to treatment have been shown to modify its prognostic significance.[21,22]

      Patients with trisomies of chromosomes 4, 10, and 17 (triple trisomies) have been shown to have a particularly favorable outcome as demonstrated by both Pediatric Oncology Group (POG) and Children's Cancer Group analyses of NCI standard-risk ALL.[23] POG data suggest that NCI standard-risk patients with trisomies of 4 and 10, without regard to chromosome 17 status, have an excellent prognosis.[24]

      Chromosomal translocations may be seen with high hyperdiploidy, and in those cases, patients are more appropriately risk-classified based on the prognostic significance of the translocation. For instance, in one study, 8% of patients with the Philadelphia chromosome (t(9;22)) also had high hyperdiploidy,[25] and the outcome of these patients (treated without tyrosine kinase inhibitors) was inferior to that observed in non-Ph+ high hyperdiploid patients.

      Certain patients with hyperdiploid ALL may have a hypodiploid clone that has doubled (masked hypodiploidy).[26] These cases may be interpretable based on the pattern of gains and losses of specific chromosomes. These patients have an unfavorable outcome, similar to those with hypodiploidy.[26]

      Near triploidy (68–80 chromosomes) and near tetraploidy (>80 chromosomes) are much less common and appear to be biologically distinct from high hyperdiploidy.[27] Unlike high hyperdiploidy, a high proportion of near tetraploid cases harbor a cryptic ETV6-RUNX1 fusion.[27,28,29] Near triploidy and tetraploidy were previously thought to be associated with an unfavorable prognosis, but later studies suggest that this may not be the case.[27,29]

      The genomic landscape of hyperdiploid ALL is represented by mutations in genes of the receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK)/RAS pathway in approximately one-half of cases. Genes encoding histone modifiers are also present in a recurring manner in a minority of cases. Analysis of mutation profiles demonstrates that chromosomal gains are early events in the pathogenesis of hyperdiploid ALL.[30]

    • Hypodiploidy (<44 chromosomes)

      Precursor B-cell ALL cases with fewer than the normal number of chromosomes have been subdivided in various ways, with one report stratifying based on modal chromosome number into the following four groups:[26]

      • Near-haploid: 24 to 29 chromosomes (n = 46).
      • Low-hypodiploid: 33 to 39 chromosomes (n = 26).
      • High-hypodiploid: 40 to 43 chromosomes (n = 13).
      • Near-diploid: 44 chromosomes (n = 54).

      Most patients with hypodiploidy are in the near-haploid and low-hypodiploid groups, and both of these groups have an elevated risk of treatment failure compared with nonhypodiploid cases.[26,31] Patients with fewer than 44 chromosomes have a worse outcome than do patients with 44 or 45 chromosomes in their leukemic cells.[26]

      The recurring genomic alterations of near-haploid and low-hypodiploid ALL appear to be distinctive from each other and from other types of ALL.[8] In near-haploid ALL, alterations targeting RTK signaling, RAS signaling, and IKZF3 are common.[32] In low-hypodiploid ALL, genetic alterations involving TP53, RB1, and IKZF2 are common. Importantly, the TP53 alterations observed in low-hypodiploid ALL are also present in nontumor cells in approximately 40% of cases, suggesting that these mutations are germline and that low-hypodiploid ALL represents, in some cases, a manifestation of Li-Fraumeni syndrome.[8]

  2. Chromosomal translocations
    • ETV6-RUNX1 (t(12;21) cryptic translocation, formerly known as TEL-AML1)

      Fusion of the ETV6 gene on chromosome 12 to the RUNX1 gene on chromosome 21 can be detected in 20% to 25% of cases of B-precursor ALL but is rarely observed in T-cell ALL.[28] The t(12;21) occurs most commonly in children aged 2 to 9 years.[33,34] Hispanic children with ALL have a lower incidence of t(12;21) than do white children.[35]

      Reports generally indicate favorable event-free survival (EFS) and overall survival (OS) in children with the ETV6-RUNX1 fusion; however, the prognostic impact of this genetic feature is modified by the following factors:[36,37,38,39,40]

      • Early response to treatment.
      • NCI risk category (age and WBC count at diagnosis).
      • Treatment regimen.

      In one study of the treatment of newly diagnosed children with ALL, multivariate analysis of prognostic factors found age and leukocyte count, but not ETV6-RUNX1, to be independent prognostic factors.[36] It does not appear that the presence of secondary cytogenetic abnormalities, such as deletion of ETV6 (12p) or CDKN2A/B (9p), impacts the outcome of patients with the ETV6-RUNX1 fusion.[40,41] There is a higher frequency of late relapses in patients with ETV6-RUNX1 fusion compared with other B-precursor ALL.[36,42] Patients with the ETV6-RUNX1 fusion who relapse seem to have a better outcome than other relapse patients,[43] with an especially favorable prognosis for patients who relapse more than 36 months from diagnosis.[44] Some relapses in patients with t(12;21) may represent a new independent second hit in a persistent preleukemic clone (with the first hit being the ETV6-RUNX1 translocation).[45,46]

    • Philadelphia chromosome (t(9;22) translocation)

      The Philadelphia chromosome t(9;22) is present in approximately 3% of children with ALL and leads to production of a BCR-ABL1 fusion protein with tyrosine kinase activity (refer to Figure 2).

      Philadelphia chromosome; three-panel drawing shows a piece of chromosome 9 and a piece of chromosome 22 breaking off and trading places, creating a changed chromosome 22 called the Philadelphia chromosome. In the left panel, the drawing shows a normal chromosome 9 with the abl gene and a normal chromosome 22 with the bcr gene. In the center panel, the drawing shows chromosome 9 breaking apart in the abl gene and chromosome 22 breaking apart below the bcr gene. In the right panel, the drawing shows chromosome 9 with the piece from chromosome 22 attached and chromosome 22 with the piece from chromosome 9 containing part of the abl gene attached. The changed chromosome 22 with bcr-abl gene is called the Philadelphia chromosome.
      Figure 2. The Philadelphia chromosome is a translocation between the ABL-1 oncogene (on the long arm of chromosome 9) and the breakpoint cluster region (BCR) (on the long arm of chromosome 22), resulting in the fusion gene BCR-ABL1. BCR-ABL encodes an oncogenic protein with tyrosine kinase activity.

      This subtype of ALL is more common in older children with precursor B-cell ALL and high WBC count.

      Historically, the Philadelphia chromosome t(9;22) was associated with an extremely poor prognosis (especially in those who presented with a high WBC count or had a slow early response to initial therapy), and its presence had been considered an indication for allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) in patients in first remission.[25,47,48,49] Inhibitors of the BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase, such as imatinib mesylate, are effective in patients with Ph+ ALL.[50] A study by the Children's Oncology Group (COG), which used intensive chemotherapy and concurrent imatinib mesylate given daily, demonstrated a 5-year EFS rate of 70% ± 12%, which was superior to the EFS rate of historical controls in the pre-tyrosine kinase inhibitor (imatinib mesylate) era.[50,51,52]

    • MLL translocations

      Translocations involving the MLL (11q23) gene occur in up to 5% of childhood ALL cases and are generally associated with an increased risk of treatment failure.[53,54,55,56] The t(4;11) translocation is the most common translocation involving the MLL gene in children with ALL and occurs in approximately 2% of cases.[54]

      Patients with the t(4;11) translocation are usually infants with high WBC counts; they are more likely than other children with ALL to have central nervous system (CNS) disease and to have a poor response to initial therapy.[57] While both infants and adults with the t(4;11) translocation are at high risk of treatment failure, children with the t(4;11) translocation appear to have a better outcome than either infants or adults.[53,54] Irrespective of the type of MLL gene rearrangement, infants with leukemia cells that have MLL gene rearrangements have a worse treatment outcome than older patients whose leukemia cells have an MLL gene rearrangement.[53,54] Whole-genome sequencing has determined that cases of infant ALL with MLL gene rearrangements have few additional genomic alterations, none of which have clear clinical significance.[11] Deletion of the MLL gene has not been associated with an adverse prognosis.[58]

      Of interest, the t(11;19) translocation involving MLL and MLLT1/ENL occurs in approximately 1% of ALL cases and occurs in both early B-lineage and T-cell ALL.[59] Outcome for infants with the t(11;19) translocation is poor, but outcome appears relatively favorable in older children with T-cell ALL and the t(11;19) translocation.[59]

    • Translocations involving TCF3: TCF3-PBX1 (E2A-PBX1; t(1;19) translocation) and TCF3-HLF (t(17;19) translocation)

      The t(1;19) translocation occurs in approximately 5% of childhood ALL cases and involves fusion of the TCF3 gene on chromosome 19 to the PBX1 gene on chromosome 1.[60,61] The t(1;19) translocation may occur as either a balanced translocation or as an unbalanced translocation and is the primary recurring genomic alteration of the pre-B ALL immunophenotype (cytoplasmic Ig positive).[62] Black children are more likely than white children to have pre-B ALL with the t(1;19).[63]

      The t(1;19) translocation had been associated with inferior outcome in the context of antimetabolite-based therapy,[64] but the adverse prognostic significance was largely negated by more aggressive multiagent therapies.[61,65] However, in a trial conducted by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (SJCRH) on which all patients were treated without cranial radiation, patients with the t(1;19) translocation had an overall outcome comparable to children lacking this translocation, with a higher risk of CNS relapse and a lower rate of bone marrow relapse, suggesting that more intensive CNS therapy may be needed for these patients.[66,67]

      The t(17;19) translocation resulting in the TCF3-HLF fusion occurs in less than 1% of pediatric ALL cases. ALL with the TCF3-HLF fusion is associated at diagnosis with disseminated intravascular coagulation and with hypercalcemia. Outcome is very poor for children with the t(17;19) translocation, with a literature review noting mortality for 20 of 21 cases reported.[68] In addition to the TCF3-HLF fusion, the genomic landscape of this ALL subtype was characterized by deletions in genes involved in B-cell development (PAX5, BTG1, and VPREB1) and by mutations in RAS pathway genes (NRAS, KRAS, and PTPN11).[62]

  3. Other genomic alterations

    Numerous new genetic lesions have been discovered by various array comparative hybridization and next-generation sequencing methods. Appreciation of these submicroscopic genomic abnormalities and mutations is redefining the subclassification of ALL:[5,69,70,71,72,73,74]

    • Intrachromosomal amplification of chromosome 21 (iAMP21): iAMP21 with multiple extra copies of the RUNX1 (AML1) gene occurs in approximately 2% of precursor B-cell ALL cases and is associated with older age (median, approximately 10 years), presenting WBC of less than 50 × 109 /l, a slight female preponderance, and high end-induction MRD.[75,76,77] The United Kingdom–ALL clinical trials group initially reported that the presence of iAMP21 conferred a poor prognosis in patients treated in the MRC ALL 97/99 trial (5-year EFS, 29%).[16] In their subsequent trial (UKALL2003 [NCT00222612]), patients with iAMP21 were assigned to a more intensive chemotherapy regimen and had a markedly better outcome (5-year EFS, 78%).[76] Similarly, the COG has reported that iAMP21 was associated with a significantly inferior outcome in NCI standard-risk patients (4-year EFS, 73% for iAMP21 vs. 92% in others), but not in NCI high-risk patients (4-year EFS, 73% vs 80%).[75] On multivariate analysis, iAMP21 was an independent predictor of inferior outcome only in NCI standard-risk patients.[75] The results of the UKALL2003 and COG studies suggest that treatment of iAMP21 patients with high-risk chemotherapy regimens abrogates its adverse prognostic significance.[77]
    • IKZF1 deletions: IKZF1 deletions, including deletions of the entire gene and deletions of specific exons, are present in approximately 15% of precursor B-cell ALL cases. Cases with IKZF1 deletions tend to occur in older children, have a higher WBC count at diagnosis, and are therefore, more common among NCI high-risk patients compared with NCI standard-risk patients.[2,78,79] A high proportion of BCR-ABL1 cases have a deletion of IKZF1,[3,78] and ALL arising in children with Down syndrome appears to have elevated rates of IKZF1 deletions.[80]IKZF1 deletions are also common in cases with CRLF2 genomic alterations and in Philadelphia chromosome–like (Ph-like) ALL (see below).[5,78,81]

      Multiple reports have documented the adverse prognostic significance of an IKZF1 deletion, and most studies have reported that this deletion is an independent predictor of poor outcome on multivariate analyses.[5,78,81,82,83,84,85,86,87]; [88][Level of evidence: 2Di]; [79][Level of evidence: 2Dii] The prognostic impact of an IKZF1 deletion is not uniform across ALL biological subtypes, as illustrated by the favorable outcome for patients with both the IKZF1 deletion and the ERG deletion.[5,6,7,79]

    • ERG deletion: Approximately 4% of pediatric B-precursor ALL patients have a focal intragenic deletion in ERG, resulting in production of a truncated ERG protein.[5,6,7] Patients with ERG deletion are significantly older than are other patients with pediatric B-precursor ALL; 40% of them show aberrant CD2 expression, and approximately 40% have the IKZF1 deletion. The ERG deletion connotes an excellent prognosis, with OS exceeding 90%; even when the IZKF1 deletion is present, prognosis remains highly favorable.[5,6,7,79]
    • Ph-like ALL (BCR-ABL-like): BCR-ABL1–negative patients with a gene expression profile similar to BCR-ABL1–positive patients have been referred to as Ph-like ALL or BCR-ABL–like.[81,82] This occurs in 10% to 15% of pediatric ALL patients, increasing in frequency with age, and has been associated with a poor prognosis and with IKZF1 deletion/mutation.[9,73,81,82,86] The results of one study of 40 patients with Ph–like ALL suggested that the adverse prognostic significance of this subtype may be abrogated when patients are treated with risk-directed therapy based on MRD levels.[89][Level of evidence: 2A]

      The hallmark of this entity is activated kinase signaling, with 50% containing CRLF2 genomic alterations [90] and 25% containing concomitant JAK mutations.[91] Additional information about Ph-like ALL cases with CRLF2 genomic alterations is provided below.

      Many of the remaining cases of Ph-like ALL have been noted to have a series of translocations with a common theme of involvement of either ABL1, JAK2, PDGFRB, or EPOR.[73] Fusion proteins from these gene combinations have been noted in some cases to be transformative and have responded to tyrosine kinase inhibitors both in vitro and in vivo,[73] suggesting potential therapeutic strategies for these patients. Point mutations in kinase genes, aside from those in JAK1 and JAK2, are uncommon in Ph–like ALL cases.[9]

    • CRLF2 and JAK mutations: Genomic alterations in CRLF2, a cytokine receptor gene located on the pseudoautosomal regions of the sex chromosomes, have been identified in 5% to 10% of cases of B-precursor ALL and they represent approximately 50% of cases of Ph-like ALL.[92,93] The chromosomal abnormalities that commonly lead to CRLF2 overexpression include translocations of the IgH locus (chromosome 14) to CRLF2 and interstitial deletions in pseudoautosomal regions of the sex chromosomes, resulting in a P2RY8-CRLF2 fusion.[9,90,92,93]CRLF2 abnormalities are strongly associated with the presence of IKZF1 deletions and JAK mutations;[9,78,90,91,93] they are also more common in children with Down syndrome.[93] Point mutations in kinase genes other than JAK1 and JAK2 are uncommon in CRLF2-overexpressing cases.[9]

      Although the results of several retrospective studies suggest that CRLF2 abnormalities may have adverse prognostic significance on univariate analyses, most do not find this abnormality to be an independent predictor of outcome.[71,90,92,93,94] For example, in a large European study, increased expression of CRLF2 was not associated with unfavorable outcome in multivariate analysis, while IKZF1 deletion and BCR-ABL-like expression signatures were associated with unfavorable outcome.[86] There is also controversy about whether the prognostic significance of CRLF2 abnormalities should be analyzed based on CRLF2 overexpression or on the presence of CRLF2 genomic alterations.[71,94]

  4. Gene polymorphisms in drug metabolic pathways

    A number of polymorphisms of genes involved in the metabolism of chemotherapeutic agents have been reported to have prognostic significance in childhood ALL.[95,96,97] For example, patients with mutant phenotypes of thiopurine methyltransferase (TPMT, a gene involved in the metabolism of thiopurines, such as 6-mercaptopurine), appear to have more favorable outcomes,[98] although such patients may also be at higher risk of developing significant treatment-related toxicities, including myelosuppression and infection.[99,100] Patients with homozygosity for TPMT variants associated with low activity typically are treated with reduced doses of 6-mercaptopurine to avoid excessive toxicity.

    Gene polymorphisms may also affect the expression of proteins that play central roles in the cellular effects of anticancer drugs. As an example, patients who are homozygous for a polymorphism in the promoter region of CEP72 (a centrosomal protein involved in microtubule formation) are at increased risk of vincristine neurotoxicity.[101]

    Genome-wide polymorphism analysis has identified specific single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with high end-induction MRD and risk of relapse. Polymorphisms of IL-15, as well as genes associated with the metabolism of etoposide and methotrexate, were significantly associated with treatment response in two large cohorts of ALL patients treated on SJCRH and COG protocols.[102] Polymorphic variants involving the reduced folate carrier and methotrexate metabolism have been linked to toxicity and outcome.[103,104] While these associations suggest that individual variations in drug metabolism can affect outcome, few studies have attempted to adjust for these variations; whether individualized dose modification based on these findings will improve outcome is unknown.

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment for information about the treatment of childhood ALL.)

Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

Pediatric AML is typically a disease of recurring chromosomal alterations, with conventional cytogenetics detecting structural and numerical cytogenetic abnormalities in 70% to 80% of children with AML, while the recently recognized cryptic translocations (e.g., NUP98/NSD1, CBFA2T3/GLIS2, and NUP98/KDM5A) and mutations (e.g., CEBPA and NPM1) account for many of the remaining cases.[105,106]

Comprehensive molecular profiling of AML in pediatric and adult cases has characterized AML as a disease showing both commonalities and distinct differences between the age groups.[106,107,108]Figure 3 (A) illustrates the frequencies of recurring gene mutations in adult and pediatric AML, showing that some mutations are differentially present between pediatric and adults cases (e.g., IDH1 and DNMT3A mutations being much more common in adults than children).[106]Figure 3 (B) shows that common genomic alterations in adult AML (FLT3-ITD, NPM1, and CEBPA mutations) are uncommon in children younger than 5 years but increase in frequency with age.
Charts showing (A) prevalence of AML-associated mutations in pediatric versus adult AML and (B) age-based prevalence of common AML-associated mutations.
Figure 3. (A) Prevalence of AML-associated mutations in pediatric versus adult AML, demonstrating lower incidence of mutations in pediatric AML. Bordered panel shows 2 newly discovered mutations in adults that are absent in pediatric AML. (B) Age-based prevalence of common AML-associated mutations.

Figure 4 (A) shows the marked variation in MLL (KMT2A)-rearranged AML by age, with much higher frequencies for infants compared with older children and adults.[106] Normal karyotype AML and core-binding factor AML show an opposing pattern, with very low rates in infancy and with increasing rates in the first two decades of life. Figure 4 (B) shows specific cryptic translocations that occur primarily in children (NUP98/NSD1, CBFA2T3/GLIS2, and NUP98/KDM5A) and vary by age.[106]
Charts showing age-based prevalence of specific karyotypic (A) or cryptic (B) translocations in AML.
Figure 4. Age-based prevalence of specific karyotypic (A) or cryptic (B) translocations in AML.

The genomic landscape of pediatric AML cases can change from diagnosis to relapse, with mutations detectable at diagnosis dropping out at relapse and conversely with new mutations appearing at relapse. A key finding in a study of 20 cases for which sequencing data were available at diagnosis and relapse was that the variant allele frequency at diagnosis strongly correlated with persistence of mutations at relapse.[109] Approximately 90% of the diagnostic variants with variant allele frequency greater than 0.4 persisted to relapse compared with only 28% with variant allele frequency less than 0.2 (P < .001). This observation is consistent with previous results showing that presence of the FLT3-ITD mutation predicted for poor prognosis only when there was a high FLT3-ITD allelic ratio.

Chromosomal analyses of leukemia (using either conventional cytogenetic methods and/or molecular methods) should be performed on children with AML because chromosomal abnormalities are important diagnostic and prognostic markers.[110,111,112,113,114,115] Clonal chromosomal abnormalities have been identified in the blasts of about 75% of children with AML and are useful in defining subtypes with particular characteristics (e.g., t(8;21), t(15;17), inv(16), 11q23 abnormalities, t(1;22)). Leukemias with the chromosomal abnormalities t(8;21) and inv(16) are called core-binding factor leukemias; core-binding factor (a transcription factor involved in hematopoietic stem cell differentiation) is disrupted by each of these abnormalities.

A unifying concept for the role of specific mutations in AML is that mutations that promote proliferation (Type I) and mutations that block normal myeloid development (Type II) are required for full conversion of hematopoietic stem/precursor cells to malignancy.[116,117] Support for this conceptual construct comes from the observation that there is generally mutual exclusivity within each type of mutation, such that a single Type I and a single Type II mutation are present within each case. Further support comes from genetically engineered models of AML for which cooperative events rather than single mutations are required for leukemia development. Type I mutations are commonly in genes involved in growth factor signal transduction and include mutations in FLT3, KIT, NRAS, KRAS, and PTNP11.[118] Type II genomic alterations include the common translocations and mutations associated with favorable prognosis (t(8;21), inv(16), t(16;16), t(15;17), CEBPA, and NPM1). MLL rearrangements (translocations and partial tandem duplication) are also classified as Type II mutations.

Specific recurring cytogenetic and molecular abnormalities are briefly described below. The abnormalities are listed by those in clinical use that identify patients with favorable or unfavorable prognosis, followed by other abnormalities.

Molecular abnormalities associated with favorable prognosis include the following:

  • t(8;21) (RUNX1-RUNX1T1): In leukemias with t(8;21), the RUNX1(AML1) gene on chromosome 21 is fused with the RUNX1T1 (ETO) gene on chromosome 8. The t(8;21) translocation is associated with the FAB M2 subtype and with granulocytic sarcomas.[119,120] Adults with t(8;21) have a more favorable prognosis than adults with other types of AML.[110,121] These children have a more favorable outcome compared with children with AML characterized by normal or complex karyotypes [110,122,123,124] with 5-year overall survival (OS) of 80% to 90%.[113,114] The t(8;21) translocation occurs in approximately 12% of children with AML.[113,114]
  • inv(16) (CBFB-MYH11): In leukemias with inv(16), the CBF beta gene (CBFB) at chromosome band 16q22 is fused with the MYH11 gene at chromosome band 16p13. The inv(16) translocation is associated with the FAB M4Eo subtype.[125] Inv(16) confers a favorable prognosis for both adults and children with AML [110,122,123,124] with a 5-year OS of about 85%.[113,114] Inv(16) occurs in 7% to 9% of children with AML.[113,114]
  • t(15;17) (PML-RARA): AML with t(15;17) is invariably associated with APL, a distinct subtype of AML that is treated differently than other types of AML because of its marked sensitivity to the differentiating effects of all-trans retinoic acid. The t(15;17) translocation leads to the production of a fusion protein involving the retinoid acid receptor alpha and PML.[126] Other much less common translocations involving the retinoic acid receptor alpha can also result in APL (e.g., t(11;17)(q23;q21) involving the PLZF gene).[127] Identification of cases with the t(11;17)(q23;q21) is important because of their decreased sensitivity to all-trans retinoic acid.[126,127] APL represents about 7% of children with AML.[114,128]
  • Nucleophosmin (NPM1) mutations: NPM1 is a protein that has been linked to ribosomal protein assembly and transport as well as being a molecular chaperone involved in preventing protein aggregation in the nucleolus. Immunohistochemical methods can be used to accurately identify patients with NPM1 mutations by the demonstration of cytoplasmic localization of NPM.[129] Mutations in the NPM1 protein that diminish its nuclear localization are primarily associated with a subset of AML with a normal karyotype, absence of CD34 expression,[130] and an improved prognosis in the absence of FLT3-internal tandem duplication (ITD) mutations in adults and younger adults.[130,131,132,133,134,135]

    Studies of children with AML suggest a lower rate of occurrence of NPM1 mutations in children compared with adults with normal cytogenetics. NPM1 mutations occur in approximately 8% of pediatric patients with AML and are uncommon in children younger than 2 years.[117,136,137,138]NPM1 mutations are associated with a favorable prognosis in patients with AML characterized by a normal karyotype.[117,137,138] For the pediatric population, conflicting reports have been published regarding the prognostic significance of an NPM1 mutation when a FLT3-ITD mutation is also present, with one study reporting that an NPM1 mutation did not completely abrogate the poor prognosis associated with having a FLT3-ITD mutation,[137,139] but with other studies showing no impact of a FLT3-ITD mutation on the favorable prognosis associated with an NPM1 mutation.[117,138]

  • CEBPA mutations: Mutations in the CCAAT/Enhancer Binding Protein Alpha gene (CEBPA) occur in a subset of children and adults with cytogenetically normal AML. In adults younger than 60 years, approximately 15% of cytogenetically normal AML cases have mutations in CEBPA.[134,140] Outcome for adults with AML with CEBPA mutations appears to be relatively favorable and similar to that of patients with core-binding factor leukemias.[134,140] Studies in adults with AML have demonstrated that CEBPA double-mutant, but not single-allele mutant, AML was independently associated with a favorable prognosis.[141,142,143,144]

    CEBPA mutations occur in 5% to 8% of children with AML and have been preferentially found in the cytogenetically normal subtype of AML with FAB M1 or M2; 70% to 80% of pediatric patients have double-mutant alleles, which is predictive of a significantly improved survival and similar to the effect observed in adult studies.[145,146] Although both double- and single-mutant alleles of CEBPA were associated with a favorable prognosis in children with AML in one large study,[145] a second study observed inferior outcome for patients with single CEBPA mutations.[146] However, very low numbers of children with single-allele mutants were included in these two studies (only 13 in toto), making a conclusion regarding the prognostic significance of single-allele CEBPA mutations in children premature.[145]

Molecular abnormalities associated with an unfavorable prognosis include the following:

  • Chromosomes 5 and 7: Chromosomal abnormalities associated with poor prognosis in adults with AML include those involving chromosome 5 (monosomy 5 and del(5q)) and chromosome 7 (monosomy 7).[110,121,147] These cytogenetic subgroups represent approximately 2% and 4% of pediatric AML cases, respectively, and are also associated with poor prognosis in children.[113,121,147,148,149,150]

    In the past, patients with del(7q) were also considered to be at high risk of treatment failure and data from adults with AML support a poor prognosis for both del(7q) and monosomy 7.[115] However, outcome for children with del(7q), but not monosomy 7, appears to be comparable to that of other children with AML.[114,150] The presence of del(7q) does not abrogate the prognostic significance of favorable cytogenetic characteristics (e.g., inv(16) and t(8;21)).[110,150,151]

    Chromosome 5 and 7 abnormalities appear to lack prognostic significance in AML patients with Down syndrome who are 4 years of age and younger.[152]

  • Chromosome 3 (inv(3)(q21;q26) or t(3;3)(q21;q26)) and EVI1 overexpression: The inv(3) and t(3;3) abnormalities involving the EVI1 gene located at chromosome 3q26 are associated with poor prognosis in adults with AML,[110,121,153] but are very uncommon in children (<1% of pediatric AML cases).[113,123,154]
  • FLT3 mutations: Presence of a FLT3-ITD mutation appears to be associated with poor prognosis in adults with AML,[155] particularly when both alleles are mutated or there is a high ratio of the mutant allele to the normal allele.[156,157]FLT3-ITD mutations also convey a poor prognosis in children with AML.[139,158,159,160,161,162] The frequency of FLT3-ITD mutations in children is lower than that observed in adults, especially for children younger than 10 years, for whom 5% to 10% of cases have the mutation (compared with approximately 30% for adults).[160,161,163] The prevalence of FLT3-ITD is increased in certain genomic subtypes of pediatric AML, including those with the NUP98-NSD1 fusion gene, of which 80% to 90% have FLT3-ITD.[164,165] Approximately 15% of patients with FLT3-ITD have NUP98-NSD1, and patients with both FLT3-ITD and NUP98-NSD1 have a poorer prognosis than do patients with FLT3-ITD and without NUP98-NSD1.[165]

    For APL, FLT3-ITD and point mutations occur in 30% to 40% of children and adults.[156,159,160,166,167,168,169] Presence of the FLT3-ITD mutation is strongly associated with the microgranular variant (M3v) of APL and with hyperleukocytosis.[159,168,170,171] It remains unclear whether FLT3 mutations are associated with poorer prognosis in patients with APL who are treated with modern therapy that includes all-trans retinoic acid and arsenic trioxide.[166,167,170,172,173]

    Activating point mutations of FLT3 have also been identified in both adults and children with AML, though the clinical significance of these mutations is not clearly defined.

Other molecular abnormalities observed in pediatric AML include the following:

  • MLL gene rearrangements: Translocations of chromosomal band 11q23 involving the MLL gene, including most AMLs secondary to epipodophyllotoxin,[174] are associated with monocytic differentiation (FAB M4 and M5). MLL rearrangements are also reported in 5% to 10% of FAB M7 (AMKL) patients.[175] The most common translocation, representing approximately 50% of MLL-rearranged cases in the pediatric AML population, is t(9;11)(p22;q23) in which the MLL gene is fused with the MLLT3(AF9) gene.[176] An MLL gene rearrangement occurs in approximately 20% of children with AML.[113,114] However, more than 50 different fusion partners have been identified for the MLL gene in patients with AML. The median age for 11q23/MLL-rearranged cases in the pediatric AML setting is approximately 2 years, and most translocation subgroups have a median age at presentation of younger than 5 years.[176] However, pediatric cases with t(6;11)(q27;q23) and t(11;17)(q23;q21) have significantly older median ages at presentation (12 years and 9 years, respectively).[176]

    Outcome for patients with de novo AML and MLL gene rearrangement is generally reported as being similar to that for other patients with AML.[110,113,176,177] However, as the MLL gene can participate in translocations with many different fusion partners, the specific fusion partner appears to influence prognosis, as demonstrated by a large international retrospective study evaluating outcome for 756 children with 11q23- or MLL-rearranged AML.[176] For example, cases with t(1;11)(q21;q23), representing 3% of all 11q23/MLL-rearranged AML, showed a highly favorable outcome with 5-year EFS of 92%. While reports from single clinical trial groups have variably described more favorable prognosis for cases with t(9;11), in which the MLL gene is fused with the AF9 gene, the international retrospective study did not confirm the favorable prognosis of the t(9;11)(p22;q23) subgroup.[110,113,176,178,179,180] An international collaboration evaluating pediatric AMKL observed that the presence of t(9;11), which was seen in approximately 5% of AMKL cases, was associated with an inferior outcome compared with other AMKL cases.[175]

    Several 11q23/MLL-rearranged AML subgroups appear to be associated with poor outcome. For example, cases with the t(10;11) translocation are a group at high risk of relapse in bone marrow and the CNS.[110,114,181] Some cases with the t(10;11) translocation have fusion of the MLL gene with the AF10-MLLT10 at 10p12, while others have fusion of MLL with ABI1 at 10p11.2.[182,183] The international retrospective study found that these cases, which present at a median age of approximately 1 year, have a 5-year EFS in the 20% to 30% range.[176] Patients with t(6;11)(q27;q23) and with t(4;11)(q21;q23) also have a poor outcome, with a 5-year EFS of 11% and 29%, respectively, in the international retrospective study.[176] A follow-up study by the international collaborative group demonstrated that additional cytogenetic abnormalities further influenced outcome of children with MLL translocations, with complex karyotypes and trisomy 19 predicting poor outcome and trisomy 8 predicting a more favorable outcome.[184]

  • t(6;9) (DEK-NUP214): t(6;9) leads to the formation of a leukemia-associated fusion protein DEK-NUP214.[185,186] This subgroup of AML has been associated with a poor prognosis in adults with AML,[185,187,188] and occurs infrequently in children (less than 1% of AML cases). The median age of children with DEK-NUP214 AML is 10 to 11 years, and approximately 40% of pediatric patients have FLT3-ITD.[189,190] t(6;9) AML appears to be associated with a high risk of treatment failure in children, particularly for those not proceeding to allogeneic stem cell transplantation.[113,186,189,190]
  • t(1;22) (RBM15-MKL1): The t(1;22)(p13;q13) translocation is uncommon (<1% of pediatric AML) and is restricted to acute megakaryocytic leukemia (AMKL).[113,191,192,193] An international collaboration found that t(1;22)(p13;q13) was observed in 14% of children (51 of 372) with AMKL and evaluable cytogenetics.[175] Most AMKL cases with t(1;22) occur in infants, with the median age at presentation (4–7 months) being younger than that for other children with AMKL.[175,194,195] The translocation is uncommon in children with Down syndrome who develop AMKL.[191,193] In leukemias with t(1;22), the RBM15 (OTT) gene on chromosome 1 is fused to the MKL1 (MAL) gene on chromosome 22.[196,197] Cases with detectable RBM15-MKL1 fusion transcripts in the absence of t(1;22) have also been reported.[193]

    Outcomes for children with AMKL vary between reported cooperative group trials, including the impact of t(1;22) on outcome. An international collaboration found that patients with t(1;22) had a 5-year EFS (54.5% ± 8.0%) and OS (58.2% ± 7.7%) similar to that of other children with AMKL.[175] Some studies have suggested that within the context of intensive chemotherapy and adequate supportive care, infants with t(1;22) can have a relatively favorable outcome that is superior to that of children with AMKL whose leukemia lacks t(1;22), with only 3 of 16 children with t(1;22) relapsing in two series; however, other studies have found the opposite in regard to outcome (5-year EFS, 38% ± 17% vs. 53% ± 6% in other AMKL patients; P = .039).[193,194,198,199]

  • t(8;16) (MYST3-CREBBP): The t(8;16) translocation fuses the MYST3 gene on chromosome 8p11 to CREBBP on chromosome 16p13. t(8;16) AML occurs rarely in children, and in an international BFM AML study of 62 children, presence of this translocation was associated with younger age at diagnosis (median, 1.2 years), FAB M4/M5 phenotype, erythrophagocytosis, leukemia cutis, and disseminated intravascular coagulation.[200] Outcome for children with t(8;16) AML appears similar to other types of AML. A substantial proportion of infants diagnosed with t(8;16) AML in the first month of life show spontaneous remission, although AML recurrence may occur months to years later.[200,201,202,203,204,205,206] These observations suggest that a watch and wait policy could be considered in cases of t(8;16) AML diagnosed in the neonatal period if close long-term monitoring can be ensured.[200]
  • t(7;12)(q36;p13): The t(7;12)(q36;p13) translocation involves ETV6 on chromosome 12p13 and variable breakpoints on chromosome 7q36 in the region of MNX1 (HLXB9).[207] The translocation may be cryptic by conventional karyotyping and in some cases may be confirmed only by FISH.[208,209,210] This alteration occurs virtually exclusively in children younger than 2 years, is mutually exclusive with MLL rearrangement, and is associated with a high risk of treatment failure.[113,114,117,208,209,211]
  • NUP98 gene fusions: NUP98 has been reported to form leukemogenic gene fusions with more than 20 different partners.[212] In the pediatric AML setting, the two most common fusion genes are NUP98-NSD1 and NUP98-JARID1A, with the former observed in one report in approximately 15% of cytogenetically normal pediatric AML and the latter observed in approximately 10% of pediatric AMKL.[164,194] AML cases with either NUP98 fusion gene show high expression of HOXA and HOXB genes, indicative of a stem cell phenotype.[186,194]
    • NUP98-NSD1: The NUP98-NSD1 fusion gene, which is often cytogenetically cryptic, results from the fusion of NUP98 (chromosome 11p15) with NSD1 (chromosome 5q35).[164,165,186,213,214,215,216] This alteration occurs in approximately 4% to 5% of pediatric AML cases.[164,186,215] The highest frequency in the pediatric population is in the 5- to 9-year age group (approximately 8%), with lower frequency in younger children (approximately 2% in children younger than 2 years). NUP98-NSD1 cases present with high WBC count (median, 147 × 109 /L in one study).[164,165] Most NUP98-NSD1 AML cases do not show cytogenetic aberrations.[164,186,213] A high percentage of NUP98-NSD1 cases (80% to 90%) have FLT3-ITD.[164,165] A study that included 12 children with NUP98-NSD1 AML reported that although all patients achieved CR, presence of NUP98-NSD1 independently predicted for poor prognosis, and children with NUP98-NSD1 AML had a high risk of relapse, with a resulting 4-year EFS of approximately 10%.[164] In another study that included children (n = 38) and adults (n = 7) with NUP98-NSD1 AML, presence of both NUP98-NSD1 and FLT3-ITD independently predicted for poor prognosis; patients with both lesions had a low CR rate (approximately 30%) and a low 3-year EFS rate (approximately 15%).[165]
    • NUP98-JARID1A: NUP98-JARID1A is a recurrent cryptic translocation in pediatric AMKL, accounting for approximately 10% of AMKL cases and having a median age at presentation of approximately 2 years. Risk of treatment failure appears high for patients with NUP98-JARID1A, although the number of patients studied is small.[194]
  • CBFA2T3-GLIS2: CBFA2T3-GLIS2 is a fusion resulting from a cryptic chromosome 16 inversion (inv(16)(p13.3q24.3)) [217,218] that is present in approximately 2% of pediatric AML.[194,217,219,220] It occurs most frequently in non–Down syndrome AMKL (~15% of patients),[194] but also has been observed in other cytogenetically normal pediatric AML subtypes (~4% of patients).[219] It has been associated with an inferior outcome.[217,220]
  • RAS mutations: Although mutations in RAS have been identified in 20% to 25% of patients with AML, the prognostic significance of these mutations has not been clearly shown.[117,221,222,223] Mutations in NRAS are observed more commonly than KRAS mutations in pediatric AML cases.[117,118]RAS mutations occur with similar frequency for all Type II alteration subtypes with the exception of APL, for which RAS mutations are seldom observed.[117]
  • KIT mutations: Mutations in KIT occur in approximately 5% of AML, but in 10% to 40% of AML with core-binding factor abnormalities.[117,118,224,225] The presence of activating KIT mutations in adults with this AML subtype appears to be associated with a poorer prognosis compared with core-binding factor AML without KIT mutation.[225,226,227] The prognostic significance of KIT mutations occurring in pediatric core-binding factor AML remains unclear,[224,228,229,230] although the largest pediatric study reported to date observed no prognostic significance for KIT mutations.[231]
  • GATA1 mutations: GATA1 mutations are present in most, if not all, Down syndrome children with either transient myeloproliferative disease or AMKL.[232,233,234,235]GATA1 mutations are not observed in non-Down syndrome children with AMKL or in Down syndrome children with other types of leukemia.[234,235]GATA1 is a transcription factor that is required for normal development of erythroid cells, megakaryocytes, eosinophils, and mast cells.[236]GATA1 mutations confer increased sensitivity to cytarabine by down-regulating cytidine deaminase expression, possibly providing an explanation for the superior outcome of children with Down syndrome and M7 AML when treated with cytarabine-containing regimens.[237]
  • WT1 mutations: WT1, a zinc-finger protein regulating gene transcription, is mutated in approximately 10% of cytogenetically normal cases of AML in adults.[238,239,240,241] The WT1 mutation has been shown in some,[238,239,241] but not all,[240] studies to be an independent predictor of worse disease-free, event-free, and OS of adults. In children with AML, WT1 mutations are observed in approximately 10% of cases.[242,243] Cases with WT1 mutations are enriched among children with normal cytogenetics and FLT3-ITD, but are less common among children younger than 3 years.[242,243] AML cases with NUP98-NSD1 are enriched for both FLT3-ITD and WT1 mutations.[164] In univariate analyses, WT1 mutations are predictive of poorer outcome in pediatric patients, but the independent prognostic significance of WT1 mutation status is unclear because of its strong association with FLT3-ITD and its association with NUP98-NSD1.[164,242,243] The largest study of WT1 mutations in children with AML observed that children with WT1 mutations in the absence of FLT3-ITD had outcomes similar to that of children without WT1 mutations, while children with both WT1 mutation and FLT3-ITD had survival rates less than 20%.[242]
  • DNMT3A mutations: Mutations of the DNA cytosine methyltransferase gene (DNMT3A) have been identified in approximately 20% of adult AML patients, being virtually absent in patients with favorable cytogenetics but occurring in one-third of adult patients with intermediate-risk cytogenetics.[244] Mutations in this gene are independently associated with poor outcome.[244,245,246]DNMT3A mutations appear to be very uncommon in children.[108]
  • IDH1 and IDH2 mutations: Mutations in IDH1 and IDH2, which code for isocitrate dehydrogenase, occur in approximately 20% of adults with AML,[247,248,249,250,251] and they are enriched in patients with NPM1 mutations.[248,249,252] The specific mutations that occur in IDH1 and IDH2 create a novel enzymatic activity that promotes conversion of alpha-ketoglutarate to 2-hydroxyglutarate.[253,254] This novel activity appears to induce a DNA hypermethylation phenotype similar to that observed in AML cases with loss of function mutations in TET2.[252] Mutations in IDH1 and IDH2 are uncommon in pediatric AML, occurring in 0% to 4% of cases.[108,255,256,257,258,259] There is no indication of a negative prognostic effect for IDH1 and IDH2 mutations in children with AML.[255]

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Acute Myeloid Leukemia/Other Myeloid Malignancies Treatment for information about the treatment of childhood AML.)

Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia (JMML)

The genomic landscape of JMML is characterized by mutations in one of five genes of the Ras pathway:[260,261]NF1, NRAS, KRAS, PTPN11, and CBL. In a series of 118 consecutively diagnosed JMML cases with Ras pathway–activating mutations, PTPN11 was the most commonly mutated gene, accounting for 51% of cases (19% germline and 32% somatic) (refer to Figure 5).[260] Patients with mutated NRAS accounted for 19% of cases, and patients with mutated KRAS accounted for 15% of cases. NF1 and CBL mutations accounted for 8% and 11% of cases, respectively. Although mutations among these five genes are generally mutually exclusive, 10% to 17% of cases have mutations in two of these Ras pathway genes,[260,261] a finding that is associated with poorer prognosis.[260]

The mutation rate in JMML leukemia cells is very low, but additional mutations beyond those of the five Ras pathway genes described above are observed.[260,261] Secondary genomic alterations are observed for genes of the transcriptional repressor complex PRC2 (e.g., ASXL1 was mutated in 7%–8% of cases). Some genes associated with myeloproliferative neoplasms in adults are also mutated at low rates in JMML (e.g., SETBP1 was mutated in 7%–9% of cases).[260,261,262]JAK3 mutations are also observed in a small percentage (4%–12%) of JMML cases.[260,261,262] Cases with germline PTPN11 and germline CBL mutations showed low rates of additional mutations (refer to Figure 5).[260]

Chart showing alteration profiles in individual JMML cases.
Figure 5. Alteration profiles in individual JMML cases. Germline and somatically acquired alterations with recurring hits in the RAS pathway and PRC2 network are shown for 118 patients with JMML who underwent detailed genetic analysis. Blast excess was defined as a blast count =10% but <20% of nucleated cells in the bone marrow at diagnosis. Blast crisis was defined as a blast count =20% of nucleated cells in the bone marrow. NS, Noonan syndrome. Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Nature Genetics (Caye A, Strullu M, Guidez F, et al.: Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia displays mutations in components of the RAS pathway and the PRC2 network. Nat Genet 47 [11]: 1334-40, 2015), copyright (2015).

Clinical implications

General characteristics of leukemia cells provide both prognostic information and guidance regarding therapeutic opportunities for JMML:

  • Number of non-RAS pathway mutations. A strong predictor of prognosis for children with JMML is the number of mutations beyond the disease-defining RAS-pathway mutations.[260,261] Of 64 patients (65.3%) at diagnosis, zero or one somatic alteration (pathogenic mutation or monosomy 7) was identified, whereas two or more alterations were identified in 34 (34.7%) patients.[261] In multivariate analysis, mutation number (two or more vs. zero or one) maintained significance as a predictor of inferior event-free survival and overall survival. A higher proportion of patients diagnosed with two or more alterations were older and male, and these patients also demonstrated a higher rate of monosomy 7 or somatic NF1 mutation.[261] Similar findings and observations reported that patients with RAS-pathway double mutations (15 of 96 patients) were at the highest risk of treatment failure.[260]
  • RAS-MAPK pathway inhibitors. Because JMML is a disease defined by mutations in the RAS-MAPK pathway, one might speculate that inhibitors of this pathway (e.g., MEK inhibitors) may have clinical utility in the treatment of JMML. However, preclinical data to support this hypothesis are inconsistent,[263,264] and there are no clinical data available.


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  221. Radich JP, Kopecky KJ, Willman CL, et al.: N-ras mutations in adult de novo acute myelogenous leukemia: prevalence and clinical significance. Blood 76 (4): 801-7, 1990.
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  225. Schnittger S, Kohl TM, Haferlach T, et al.: KIT-D816 mutations in AML1-ETO-positive AML are associated with impaired event-free and overall survival. Blood 107 (5): 1791-9, 2006.
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  228. Shih LY, Liang DC, Huang CF, et al.: Cooperating mutations of receptor tyrosine kinases and Ras genes in childhood core-binding factor acute myeloid leukemia and a comparative analysis on paired diagnosis and relapse samples. Leukemia 22 (2): 303-7, 2008.
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  230. Boissel N, Leroy H, Brethon B, et al.: Incidence and prognostic impact of c-Kit, FLT3, and Ras gene mutations in core binding factor acute myeloid leukemia (CBF-AML). Leukemia 20 (6): 965-70, 2006.
  231. Pollard JA, Alonzo TA, Gerbing RB, et al.: Prevalence and prognostic significance of KIT mutations in pediatric patients with core binding factor AML enrolled on serial pediatric cooperative trials for de novo AML. Blood 115 (12): 2372-9, 2010.
  232. Groet J, McElwaine S, Spinelli M, et al.: Acquired mutations in GATA1 in neonates with Down's syndrome with transient myeloid disorder. Lancet 361 (9369): 1617-20, 2003.
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Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Mature B-cell Lymphoma

The mature B-cell lymphomas include Burkitt and Burkitt-like lymphoma, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, and primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma.

Burkitt and Burkitt-like lymphoma

The malignant cells show a mature B-cell phenotype and are negative for the enzyme terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase. These malignant cells usually express surface immunoglobulin, most bearing a clonal surface immunoglobulin M with either kappa or lambda light chains. A variety of additional B-cell markers (e.g., CD19, CD20, CD22) are usually present, and most childhood Burkitt and Burkitt-like lymphomas/leukemias express CALLA (CD10).[1]

Burkitt lymphoma/leukemia expresses a characteristic chromosomal translocation, usually t(8;14) and more rarely t(8;22) or t(2;8). Each of these translocations juxtaposes the c-myc oncogene and immunoglobulin locus regulatory elements, resulting in the inappropriate expression of c-myc, a gene involved in cellular proliferation.[2,3,4] The presence of one of the variant translocations t(2;8) or t(8;22) does not appear to affect response or outcome.[5]

The distinction between Burkitt and Burkitt-like lymphoma/leukemia is controversial. Burkitt lymphoma/leukemia consists of uniform, small, noncleaved cells, whereas the diagnosis of Burkitt-like lymphoma/leukemia is highly disputed among pathologists because of features that are consistent with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.[6]

Cytogenetic evidence of c-myc rearrangement is the gold standard for diagnosis of Burkitt lymphoma/leukemia. For cases in which cytogenetic analysis is not available, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that the Burkitt-like diagnosis be reserved for lymphoma resembling Burkitt lymphoma/leukemia or with more pleomorphism, large cells, and a proliferation fraction (i.e., MIB-1 or Ki-67 immunostaining) of 99% or greater.[1] BCL2 staining by immunohistochemistry is variable. The absence of a translocation involving the BCL2 gene does not preclude the diagnosis of Burkitt lymphoma/leukemia and has no clinical implications.[7]

Studies have demonstrated that the vast majority of Burkitt-like or atypical Burkitt lymphoma/leukemia has a gene expression signature similar to Burkitt lymphoma/leukemia.[8,9] Additionally, as many as 30% of pediatric diffuse large B-cell lymphoma cases will have a gene signature similar to Burkitt lymphoma/leukemia.[8,10]

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for information about the treatment of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma.)

Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma

The World Health Organization (WHO) classification system does not recommend subclassification of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma on the basis of morphologic variants (e.g., immunoblastic, centroblastic).[11]

Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in children and adolescents differs biologically from diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in adults in the following ways:

  • The vast majority of pediatric diffuse large B-cell lymphoma cases have a germinal center B-cell phenotype, as assessed by immunohistochemical analysis of selected proteins found in normal germinal center B cells, such as the BCL6 gene product and CD10.[5,12,13] The age at which the favorable germinal center subtype changes to the less favorable nongerminal center subtype was shown to be a continuous variable.[14]
  • Pediatric diffuse large B-cell lymphoma rarely demonstrates the t(14;18) translocation involving the immunoglobulin heavy-chain gene and the BCL2 gene that is seen adults.[12]
  • As many as 30% of patients younger than 14 years with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma will have a gene signature similar to Burkitt lymphoma/leukemia.[8,10]
  • In contrast to adult diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, pediatric cases show a high frequency of abnormalities at the MYC locus (chromosome 8q24), with approximately one-third of pediatric cases showing MYC rearrangement and with approximately one-half of the nonrearranged cases showing MYC gain or amplification.[10,15]
  • A subset of pediatric diffuse large B-cell lymphoma cases was found to have a translocation that juxtaposes the IRF4 oncogene next to one of the immunoglobulin loci. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma cases with an IRF4 translocation were significantly more frequent in children than in adults (15% vs. 2%), were germinal center–derived B-cell lymphomas, and were associated with favorable prognosis compared with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma cases lacking this abnormality.[16]

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for information about the treatment of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma.)

Primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma

Primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma was previously considered a subtype of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, but is now a separate entity in the most recent World Health Organization (WHO) classification.[17] These tumors arise in the mediastinum from thymic B-cells and show a diffuse large cell proliferation with sclerosis that compartmentalizes neoplastic cells.

Primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma can be very difficult to distinguish morphologically from the following types of lymphoma:

  • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma: Cell surface markers are similar to the ones seen in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, such as CD19, CD20, CD22, CD79a, and PAX-5. Primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma often lacks cell surface immunoglobulin expression but may display cytoplasmic immunoglobulins. CD30 expression is commonly present.[17]
  • Hodgkin lymphoma: Primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma may be difficult to clinically and morphologically distinguish from Hodgkin lymphoma, especially with small mediastinal biopsies because of extensive sclerosis and necrosis.

Primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma is associated with distinctive chromosomal aberrations (gains in chromosomes 9p and 2p in regions that involve JAK2 and c-rel, respectively) [18,19] and commonly shows inactivation of SOCS1 by either mutation or gene deletion.[20,21] Primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma has a distinctly different gene expression profile from diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, but its gene expression profile has features similar to those seen in Hodgkin lymphoma.[22,23]

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for information about the treatment of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma.)

Lymphoblastic Lymphoma

Lymphoblastic lymphomas are usually positive for terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase, with more than 75% having a T-cell immunophenotype and the remainder having a precursor B-cell phenotype.[2,24]

As opposed to pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia, chromosomal abnormalities and the molecular biology of pediatric lymphoblastic lymphoma are not well characterized. The Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster group reported that loss of heterozygosity at chromosome 6q was observed in 12% of patients and NOTCH1 mutations were seen in 60% of patients, but NOTCH1 mutations are rarely seen in patients with loss of heterozygosity in 6q16.[25,26]

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for information about the treatment of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma.)

Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma

While the predominant immunophenotype of anaplastic large cell lymphoma is mature T-cell, null-cell disease (i.e., no T-cell, B-cell, or natural killer-cell surface antigen expression) does occur. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies anaplastic large cell lymphoma as a subtype of peripheral T-cell lymphoma.[27]

All anaplastic large cell lymphoma cases are CD30-positive. More than 90% of pediatric anaplastic large cell lymphoma cases have a chromosomal rearrangement involving the ALK gene. About 85% of these chromosomal rearrangements will be t(2;5)(p23;q35), leading to the expression of the fusion protein NPM-ALK; the other 15% of cases are composed of variant ALK translocations.[28] Anti-ALK immunohistochemical staining pattern is quite specific for the type of ALK translocation. Cytoplasm and nuclear ALK staining is associated with NPM-ALK fusion protein, whereas cytoplasmic staining only of ALK is associated with the variant ALK translocations.[28]

In adults, ALK-positive anaplastic large cell lymphoma is viewed differently from other peripheral T-cell lymphomas because prognosis tends to be superior.[29] Also, adult ALK-negative anaplastic large cell lymphoma patients have an inferior outcome compared with patients who have ALK-positive disease.[30] In children, however, this difference in outcome between ALK-positive and ALK-negative disease has not been demonstrated. In addition, no correlation has been found between outcome and the specific ALK-translocation type.[31,32,33]

In a European series of 375 children and adolescents with systemic ALK-positive anaplastic large cell lymphoma, the presence of a small cell or lymphohistiocytic component was observed in 32% of patients and was significantly associated with a high risk of failure in the multivariate analysis, controlling for clinical characteristics (hazard ratio, 2.0; P = .002).[32] The prognostic implication of the small cell variant of anaplastic large cell lymphoma was also shown in the COG-ANHL0131 (NCT00059839) study, despite a different chemotherapy backbone.[33]

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for information about the treatment of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma.)


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  2. Sandlund JT, Downing JR, Crist WM: Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in childhood. N Engl J Med 334 (19): 1238-48, 1996.
  3. Perkins SL, Lones MA, Davenport V, et al.: B-Cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in children and adolescents: surface antigen expression and clinical implications for future targeted bioimmune therapy: a children's cancer group report. Clin Adv Hematol Oncol 1 (5): 314-7, 2003.
  4. Miles RR, Cairo MS, Satwani P, et al.: Immunophenotypic identification of possible therapeutic targets in paediatric non-Hodgkin lymphomas: a children's oncology group report. Br J Haematol 138 (4): 506-12, 2007.
  5. Gualco G, Weiss LM, Harrington WJ Jr, et al.: Nodal diffuse large B-cell lymphomas in children and adolescents: immunohistochemical expression patterns and c-MYC translocation in relation to clinical outcome. Am J Surg Pathol 33 (12): 1815-22, 2009.
  6. Kluin PM, Harris NL, Stein H: B-cell lymphoma, unclassifiable, with features intermediate between diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and Burkitt lymphoma. In: Swerdlow SH, Campo E, Harris NL, et al., eds.: WHO Classification of Tumours of Haematopoietic and Lymphoid Tissues. 4th ed. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2008, pp 265-6.
  7. Masqué-Soler N, Szczepanowski M, Kohler CW, et al.: Clinical and pathological features of Burkitt lymphoma showing expression of BCL2--an analysis including gene expression in formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue. Br J Haematol 171 (4): 501-8, 2015.
  8. Klapper W, Szczepanowski M, Burkhardt B, et al.: Molecular profiling of pediatric mature B-cell lymphoma treated in population-based prospective clinical trials. Blood 112 (4): 1374-81, 2008.
  9. Dave SS, Fu K, Wright GW, et al.: Molecular diagnosis of Burkitt's lymphoma. N Engl J Med 354 (23): 2431-42, 2006.
  10. Deffenbacher KE, Iqbal J, Sanger W, et al.: Molecular distinctions between pediatric and adult mature B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas identified through genomic profiling. Blood 119 (16): 3757-66, 2012.
  11. Stein H, Warnke RA, Chan WC: Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), NOS. In: Swerdlow SH, Campo E, Harris NL, et al., eds.: WHO Classification of Tumours of Haematopoietic and Lymphoid Tissues. 4th ed. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2008, pp 233-7.
  12. Oschlies I, Klapper W, Zimmermann M, et al.: Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in pediatric patients belongs predominantly to the germinal-center type B-cell lymphomas: a clinicopathologic analysis of cases included in the German BFM (Berlin-Frankfurt-Munster) Multicenter Trial. Blood 107 (10): 4047-52, 2006.
  13. Miles RR, Raphael M, McCarthy K, et al.: Pediatric diffuse large B-cell lymphoma demonstrates a high proliferation index, frequent c-Myc protein expression, and a high incidence of germinal center subtype: Report of the French-American-British (FAB) international study group. Pediatr Blood Cancer 51 (3): 369-74, 2008.
  14. Klapper W, Kreuz M, Kohler CW, et al.: Patient age at diagnosis is associated with the molecular characteristics of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. Blood 119 (8): 1882-7, 2012.
  15. Poirel HA, Cairo MS, Heerema NA, et al.: Specific cytogenetic abnormalities are associated with a significantly inferior outcome in children and adolescents with mature B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: results of the FAB/LMB 96 international study. Leukemia 23 (2): 323-31, 2009.
  16. Salaverria I, Philipp C, Oschlies I, et al.: Translocations activating IRF4 identify a subtype of germinal center-derived B-cell lymphoma affecting predominantly children and young adults. Blood 118 (1): 139-47, 2011.
  17. Jaffe ES, Harris NL, Stein H, et al.: Introduction and overview of the classification of the lymphoid neoplasms. In: Swerdlow SH, Campo E, Harris NL, et al., eds.: WHO Classification of Tumours of Haematopoietic and Lymphoid Tissues. 4th ed. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2008, pp 157-66.
  18. Bea S, Zettl A, Wright G, et al.: Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma subgroups have distinct genetic profiles that influence tumor biology and improve gene-expression-based survival prediction. Blood 106 (9): 3183-90, 2005.
  19. Oschlies I, Burkhardt B, Salaverria I, et al.: Clinical, pathological and genetic features of primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphomas and mediastinal gray zone lymphomas in children. Haematologica 96 (2): 262-8, 2011.
  20. Melzner I, Bucur AJ, Brüderlein S, et al.: Biallelic mutation of SOCS-1 impairs JAK2 degradation and sustains phospho-JAK2 action in the MedB-1 mediastinal lymphoma line. Blood 105 (6): 2535-42, 2005.
  21. Mestre C, Rubio-Moscardo F, Rosenwald A, et al.: Homozygous deletion of SOCS1 in primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma detected by CGH to BAC microarrays. Leukemia 19 (6): 1082-4, 2005.
  22. Rosenwald A, Wright G, Leroy K, et al.: Molecular diagnosis of primary mediastinal B cell lymphoma identifies a clinically favorable subgroup of diffuse large B cell lymphoma related to Hodgkin lymphoma. J Exp Med 198 (6): 851-62, 2003.
  23. Savage KJ, Monti S, Kutok JL, et al.: The molecular signature of mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma differs from that of other diffuse large B-cell lymphomas and shares features with classical Hodgkin lymphoma. Blood 102 (12): 3871-9, 2003.
  24. Neth O, Seidemann K, Jansen P, et al.: Precursor B-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma in childhood and adolescence: clinical features, treatment, and results in trials NHL-BFM 86 and 90. Med Pediatr Oncol 35 (1): 20-7, 2000.
  25. Bonn BR, Rohde M, Zimmermann M, et al.: Incidence and prognostic relevance of genetic variations in T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma in childhood and adolescence. Blood 121 (16): 3153-60, 2013.
  26. Burkhardt B, Moericke A, Klapper W, et al.: Pediatric precursor T lymphoblastic leukemia and lymphoblastic lymphoma: Differences in the common regions with loss of heterozygosity at chromosome 6q and their prognostic impact. Leuk Lymphoma 49 (3): 451-61, 2008.
  27. Swerdlow SH, Campo E, Harris NL, et al., eds.: WHO Classification of Tumours of Haematopoietic and Lymphoid Tissues. 4th ed. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2008.
  28. Duyster J, Bai RY, Morris SW: Translocations involving anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK). Oncogene 20 (40): 5623-37, 2001.
  29. Savage KJ, Harris NL, Vose JM, et al.: ALK- anaplastic large-cell lymphoma is clinically and immunophenotypically different from both ALK+ ALCL and peripheral T-cell lymphoma, not otherwise specified: report from the International Peripheral T-Cell Lymphoma Project. Blood 111 (12): 5496-504, 2008.
  30. Vose J, Armitage J, Weisenburger D, et al.: International peripheral T-cell and natural killer/T-cell lymphoma study: pathology findings and clinical outcomes. J Clin Oncol 26 (25): 4124-30, 2008.
  31. Stein H, Foss HD, Dürkop H, et al.: CD30(+) anaplastic large cell lymphoma: a review of its histopathologic, genetic, and clinical features. Blood 96 (12): 3681-95, 2000.
  32. Lamant L, McCarthy K, d'Amore E, et al.: Prognostic impact of morphologic and phenotypic features of childhood ALK-positive anaplastic large-cell lymphoma: results of the ALCL99 study. J Clin Oncol 29 (35): 4669-76, 2011.
  33. Alexander S, Kraveka JM, Weitzman S, et al.: Advanced stage anaplastic large cell lymphoma in children and adolescents: results of ANHL0131, a randomized phase III trial of APO versus a modified regimen with vinblastine: a report from the children's oncology group. Pediatr Blood Cancer 61 (12): 2236-42, 2014.

Central Nervous System Tumors

Central nervous system (CNS) tumors include low-grade gliomas, high-grade gliomas, oligodendrogliomas, brain stem gliomas, CNS atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumors, medulloblastomas, CNS primitive neuroectodermal tumors, and ependymomas.

Low-Grade Gliomas

Genomic alterations involving activation of BRAF and the ERK/MAPK pathway are very common in sporadic cases of pilocytic astrocytoma, a type of low-grade glioma.

BRAF activation in pilocytic astrocytoma occurs most commonly through a BRAF-KIAA1549 gene fusion, producing a fusion protein that lacks the BRAF regulatory domain.[1,2,3,4,5] This fusion is seen in most infratentorial and midline pilocytic astrocytomas, but is present at lower frequency in supratentorial (hemispheric) tumors.[1,2,6,7,8,9,10]

Presence of the BRAF-KIAA1549 fusion predicted a better clinical outcome (progression-free survival [PFS] and overall survival [OS]) in one report that described children with incompletely resected low-grade gliomas.[10] However, other factors such as p16 deletion and tumor location may modify the impact of the BRAF mutation on outcome.[11] Progression to high-grade glioma is rare for pediatric low-grade glioma with the BRAF-KIAA1549 fusion.[12]

BRAF activation through the BRAF-KIAA1549 fusion has also been described in other pediatric low-grade gliomas (e.g., pilomyxoid astrocytoma).[9,10]

Other genomic alterations in pilocytic astrocytomas that can activate the ERK/MAPK pathway (e.g., alternative BRAF gene fusions, RAF1 rearrangements, RAS mutations, and BRAF V600E point mutations) are less commonly observed.[2,4,5,13]BRAF V600E point mutations are also observed in nonpilocytic pediatric low-grade gliomas, including ganglioglioma, desmoplastic infantile ganglioglioma, and approximately two-thirds of pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma cases.[14,15,16] One retrospective study of 53 children with gangliogliomas demonstrated BRAF V600E staining in approximately 40% of tumors. Five-year recurrence-free survival was worse in the V600E-mutated tumors (about 60%) than in tumors that did not stain for V600E (about 80%).[17] The frequency of the BRAF V600E mutation was significantly higher in pediatric low-grade glioma that transformed to high-grade glioma (8 of 18 cases) than was the frequency of mutation in cases that did not transform (10 of 167 cases).[12]

As with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) deficiency in activating the ERK/MAPK pathway, activating BRAF genomic alterations are uncommon in pilocytic astrocytoma associated with NF1.[8]

Activating mutations in FGFR1, PTPN11, and in NTRK2 fusion genes have also been identified in noncerebellar pilocytic astrocytomas.[18] In pediatric grade II diffuse astrocytomas, the most common alterations reported (up to 53% of tumors) are rearrangements in the MYB family of transcription factors.[19,20]

Most children with tuberous sclerosis have a mutation in one of two tuberous sclerosis genes (TSC1/hamartin or TSC2/tuberin). Either of these mutations results in an overexpression of the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) complex 1. These children are at risk of developing subependymal giant cell astrocytomas, cortical tubers, and subependymal nodules.

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Astrocytomas Treatment for information about the treatment of low-grade childhood astrocytomas.)

High-Grade Gliomas

Pediatric high-grade gliomas, especially glioblastoma multiforme, are biologically distinct from those arising in adults.[21,22,23,24] Pediatric high-grade gliomas have PTEN and EGFR genomic alterations less frequently and PDGF/PDGFR genomic alterations and mutations in histone H3.3 genes more frequently than do adult tumors. Although it was believed that pediatric glioblastoma multiforme tumors were more closely related to adult secondary glioblastoma multiforme tumors in which there is stepwise transformation from lower-grade into higher-grade gliomas and in which most tumors have IDH1 and IDH2 mutations, the latter mutations are rarely observed in childhood glioblastoma multiforme tumors.[25,26,27]

Based on epigenetic patterns (DNA methylation), pediatric glioblastoma multiforme tumors are separated into relatively distinct subgroups with distinctive chromosome copy number gains/losses and gene mutations.[27]

Two subgroups have identifiable recurrent H3F3A mutations, suggesting disrupted epigenetic regulatory mechanisms, with one subgroup having mutations at K27 (lysine 27) and the other group having mutations at G34 (glycine 34). The subgroups are the following:

  • H3F3A mutation at K27: The K27 cluster occurs predominately in mid-childhood (median age, approximately 10 years), is mainly midline (thalamus, brainstem, and spinal cord), and carries a very poor prognosis. These tumors also frequently have TP53 mutations. Thalamic high-grade gliomas in older adolescents and young adults also show a high rate of H3F3A K27 mutations.[28]
  • H3F3A mutation at G34: The second H3F3A mutation tumor cluster, the G34 grouping, is found in somewhat older children and young adults (median age, 18 years), arises exclusively in the cerebral cortex, and carries a somewhat better prognosis. The G34 clusters also have TP53 mutations and widespread hypomethylation across the whole genome.

The H3F3A K27 and G34 mutations appear to be unique to high-grade gliomas and have not been observed in other pediatric brain tumors.[29] Both mutations induce distinctive DNA methylation patterns compared with the patterns observed in IDH-mutated tumors, which occur in young adults.[25,26,27,