Chimaeric fusion genes derived by chromosome translocation are common molecular abnormalities in paediatric leukaemia and provide unique markers for the malignant clone. They have been especially informative in studies with twins concordant for leukaemia and in retrospective scrutiny of archived neonatal blood spots. These data have indicated that, in paediatric leukaemia, the majority of chromosome translocations arise in utero during foetal haemopoiesis. Chromosomal translocations and preleukaemic clones arise at a substantially higher frequency (∼100×) before birth than the cumulative incidence or risk of disease, reflecting the requirement for complementary and secondary genetic events that occur postnatally. A consequence of the latter is a very variable and occasionally protracted postnatal latency of disease (1-15 years). These natural histories provide an important framework for consideration of key aetiological events in paediatric leukaemia. © 2004 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
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