Bone marrow failure syndromes in children

Blanche P. Alter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There are several common themes that are emerging from our expanding knowledge about the inherited bone marrow failure syndromes. Patients have a spectrum of birth defects, which are relatively characteristic for each syndrome, but overlap in features such as poor growth, radial ray anomalies, and involvement of skin, eyes, renal, cardiac, skeletal, and other organs. Within each syndrome the composition and severity of the physical phenotype varies widely, and it may require the astute observer to make the correct diagnoses in the milder cases. There is also a wide spectrum to the hematologic picture. These range from single cytopenias such as DBA, SCN, and TAR, which do not develop pancytopenia, to SD and Amega patients who begin with deficiency of a specific single lineage, but evolve to aplastic anemia, to patients with FA or DC, who may present with a deficiency of any one of the cell lines, but almost inevitably end up with full-blown aplastic anemia. Acute myeloid leukemia has been observed in FA, DBA, DC, SD, SCN, and Amega, although not yet in TAR patients. MDS has also been reported in all of the same disorders as AML, although whether it is a preleukemic condition or an independent bone marrow dyspoiesis is not yet clear. Solid tumors are also now appearing in patients whose underlying disease involves hematopoiesis and physical development. These tumors occur at much younger ages than in the general population, in patients who do not appear to have the usual risk factors, and have patterns that are characteristic to the syndrome, such as head and neck and gynecologic cancers in FA and DC, and osteogenic sarcomas in DBA. The other syndromes have not yet been reported to have a propensity for solid tumors. Several genes have been identified that are mutant in some of the syndromes, although the pathophysiology is still not entirely clear. The inheritance patterns include X-linked recessive, autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive, and even mitochondrial. The FA gene products appear to cooperate, and are important in the pathways involved in response to DNA damage. However, the role of this pathway in developmental defects, hematopoietic failure, and the specific malignancies in FA is not fully elucidated. The DC gene products are important for maintenance of telomere length, which may have relevance to development of aplastic anemia and malignancies, but the relation to the physical phenotype is less apparent. The role of mutations in c-mpl in Amega is more straightforward, since the gene codes for the receptor for thrombopoietin, which is the hormone required for megakaryocyte and platelet development; patients with mutant c-mpl do not have birth defects. The role of mutations in RPS19 in erythropoiesis or developmental defects in DBA patients is not obvious, and the increased frequency of osteogenic sarcomas suggests that at least that subset of patients may have a mutant tumor suppressor gene (such as p53, the mutant gene in Li-Fraumeni syndrome) [68]. Although patients with SCN have mutations in neutrophil elastase, patients with similar mutations may have relatively benign cyclic neutropenia, or may even have normal neutrophil levels [69,70]. The mitochondrial gene deletions in Pearson's Syndrome result in variable degrees of acidosis, and varied organ involvement due to heteroplasmy. Thus, the disorders included under the rubric "inherited bone marrow failure syndromes" have clinical, hematologic, oncologic, and genetic diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)973-988
Number of pages16
JournalPediatric Clinics of North America
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health

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