Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in infants has a significantly inferior outcome in comparison with older children. Despite initial improvements in survival of infants with ALL since establishment of the first pediatric cooperative group ALL trials, the poor outcome has plateaued in recent years. Historically, infants were treated on risk-adapted childhood ALL protocols. These studies were pivotal in identifying the need for infant-specific rotocols, delineating prognostic categories and the requirement for a more unified approach between study groups to overcome limitations in accrual because of low incidence. This subsequently led to the development of collaborative infant-specific studies. Landmark outcomes have included the elimination of cranial radiotherapy following the discovery of intrathecal and high-dose systemic therapy as a superior and effective treatment strategy for central nervous system disease prophylaxis, with improved neurodevelopmental outcome. Universal prospective identification of independent adverse prognostic factors, including presence of a mixed lineage leukemia rearrangement and young age, has established the basis for risk stratification within current trials. The infant-specific trials have defined limits to which conventional chemotherapeutic agents can be intensified to optimize the balance between treatment efficacy and toxicity. Despite variations in therapeutic intensity, there has been no recent improvement in survival due to the equilibrium between relapse and toxicity. Ultimately, to improve the outcome for infants with ALL, key areas still to be addressed include identification and adaptation of novel prognostic markers and innovative therapies, establishing the role of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in first complete remission, treatment strategies for relapsed/refractory disease and monitoring and timely intervention of late effects in survivors. This would be best achieved through a single unified international trial. © 2014 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.