Etiology of common childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: the adrenal hypothesis

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The pattern of infections in the first years of life modulates our immune system, and a low incidence of infections has been linked to an increased risk of common childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). We here present a new interpretation of these observations - the adrenal hypothesis - that proposes that the risk of childhood ALL is reduced when early childhood infections induce qualitative and quantitative changes in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis that increase plasma cortisol levels. This may directly eliminate leukemic cells as well as preleukemic cells for the ALL subsets that dominate in the first 5-7 years of life and may furthermore suppress the Th1-dominated proinflammatory response to infections, and thus lower the proliferative stress on preexisting preleukemic cells.

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