Acute Myeloid Leukemia - Pathophysiology

Pathophysiology

The malignant cell in AML is the myeloblast. In normal hematopoiesis, the myeloblast is an immature precursor of myeloid white blood cells; a normal myeloblast will gradually mature into a mature white blood cell. In AML, though, a single myeloblast accumulates genetic changes which "freeze" the cell in its immature state and prevent differentiation. Such a mutation alone does not cause leukemia; however, when such a "differentiation arrest" is combined with other mutations which disrupt genes controlling proliferation, the result is the uncontrolled growth of an immature clone of cells, leading to the clinical entity of AML.

Much of the diversity and heterogeneity of AML stems is because leukemic transformation can occur at a number of different steps along the differentiation pathway. Modern classification schemes for AML recognize the characteristics and behavior of the leukemic cell (and the leukemia) may depend on the stage at which differentiation was halted.

Specific cytogenetic abnormalities can be found in many patients with AML; the types of chromosomal abnormalities often have prognostic significance. The chromosomal translocations encode abnormal fusion proteins, usually transcription factors whose altered properties may cause the "differentiation arrest". For example, in acute promyelocytic leukemia, the t(15;17) translocation produces a PML-RARĪ± fusion protein which binds to the retinoic acid receptor element in the promoters of several myeloid-specific genes and inhibits myeloid differentiation.

The clinical signs and symptoms of AML result from the growth of leukemic clone cells, which tends to displace or interfere with the development of normal blood cells in the bone marrow. This leads to neutropenia, anemia, and thrombocytopenia. The symptoms of AML are, in turn, often due to the low numbers of these normal blood elements. In rare cases, patients can develop a chloroma, or solid tumor of leukemic cells outside the bone marrow, which can cause various symptoms depending on its location.

Read more about this topic:  Acute Myeloid Leukemia

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