Outcomes in childhood T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL) are steadily improving due to intensive therapy. Between 1989 and 2008, 599 children with newly diagnosed T-ALL were enrolled in two successive European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer - Children's Leukaemia Group trials (58881 and 58951), both based on the Berlin-Frankfurt-Munster protocol and without cranial irradiation. In the latter trial induction chemotherapy was intensified. The most important randomizations were Medac Escherichia coli asparaginase versus Erwinia asparaginase in trial 58881, and dexamethasone (6 mg/m(2)/day) versus prednisolone (60 mg/m(2)/day) and prolonged versus conventional asparaginase duration in trial 58951. 8-year event-free survival (EFS) increased from 65 center dot 1% to 74 center dot 0% in trial 58951. Improvement was most profound for patients with white blood cell (WBC) counts E. coli asparaginase was associated with longer EFS [hazard ratio (HR) 0 center dot 54, P = 0 center dot 0015] and overall survival (HR 0 center dot 51, P = 0 center dot 0018). Induction therapy with dexamethasone did not improve EFS compared to prednisolone. Remarkably, intensification of central nervous system (CNS)-directed therapy in trial 58951 resulted in fewer bone marrow relapses, while the incidence of CNS relapses remained low. In summary, we showed that adequate asparaginase therapy, intensified induction treatment and intensification of CNS-directed chemotherapy can result in an improvement of outcome in T-ALL patients with good prephase response and initial WBC counts <100 x 10(9)/l, representing approximately 50% of T-ALL patients.