Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia: who’s the driver at the wheel?

Charlotte M. Niemeyer and Christian Flotho


Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML) is a unique clonal hematopoietic disorder of early childhood. It is classified as an overlap myeloproliferative/myelodysplastic neoplasm by the World Health Organization and shares some features with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia in adults. JMML pathobiology is characterized by constitutive activation of the Ras signal transduction pathway. About 90% of patients harbor molecular alterations in 1 of 5 genes (PTPN11, NRAS, KRAS, NF1, or CBL), which define genetically and clinically distinct subtypes. Three of these subtypes, PTPN11-, NRAS-, and KRAS-mutated JMML, are characterized by heterozygous somatic gain-of-function mutations in nonsyndromic children, whereas 2 subtypes, JMML in neurofibromatosis type 1 and JMML in children with CBL syndrome, are defined by germline Ras disease and acquired biallelic inactivation of the respective genes in hematopoietic cells. The clinical course of the disease varies widely and can in part be predicted by age, level of hemoglobin F, and platelet count. The majority of children require allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for long-term leukemia-free survival, but the disease will eventually resolve spontaneously in ∼15% of patients, rendering the prospective identification of these cases a clinical necessity. Most recently, genome-wide DNA methylation profiles identified distinct methylation signatures correlating with clinical and genetic features and highly predictive for outcome. Understanding the genomic and epigenomic basis of JMML will not only greatly improve precise decision making but also be fundamental for drug development and future collaborative trials.

  • Submitted November 15, 2018.
  • Accepted January 10, 2019.
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