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Blood. 2003 Oct 1;102(7):2321-33. Epub 2003 Jun 5.

Leukemia in twins: lessons in natural history.

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Leukemia Research Fund Centre, Institute of Cancer Research, Chester Beatty Laboratories, 237 Fulham Rd, London SW3 6JB, United Kingdom.


Identical infant twins with concordant leukemia were first described in 1882, and since that time many such pairs of infants and older children have been described. It has long been recognized that this situation offers a unique opportunity to identify aspects of the developmental timing, natural history, and molecular genetics of pediatric leukemia in general. We reviewed both the older literature and more recent molecular biologic studies that have uncovered the basis of concordance of leukemia. Molecular markers of clonality, including unique, genomic fusion gene sequences, have provided unequivocal evidence that twin pairs of leukemia have a common clonal origin. The only plausible basis for this, first suggested more than 40 years ago, is that following initiation of leukemia in one twin fetus, clonal progeny spread to the co-twin via vascular anastomoses within a single, monochorionic placenta. This explanation has been endorsed by the identification of clonotypic gene fusion sequences in archived neonatal blood spots of individuals who subsequently developed leukemia. These analyses of twin leukemias have thrown considerable light on the natural history of disease. They reveal a frequent prenatal origin and an early or initiating role for chromosome translocations. Further, they provide evidence for a variable and often protracted latency and the need, in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)/acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML), for further postnatal exposures and/or genetic events to produce clinical disease. We argue that these insights provide a very useful framework for attempts to understand etiologic mechanisms.

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