Multifactorial pathogenetic features underlying myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) relate to inherent abnormalities within the hematopoietic precursor cell population. The predominant final common pathogenetic pathway causing ineffective hematopoiesis in MDS has been the varying degrees of apoptosis of the hematopoietic precursors and their progeny. A variety of molecular abnormalities have been demonstrated in MDS. These lesions are attributable to nonrandom cytogenetic and oncogenic mutations, indicative of chromosomal and genetic instability, transcriptional RNA splicing abnormalities, and epigenetic changes. Evolutionary cytogenetic changes may occur during the course of the disorder, which are associated with disease progression. These genetic derangements reflect a multistep process believed to underlie the transformation of MDS to acute myeloid leukemia. Recent findings provide molecular insights into specific gene mutations playing major roles for the development and clinical outcome of MDS and their propensity to progress to a more aggressive stage. Use of more comprehensive and sensitive methods for molecular profiling using 'next-generation' sequencing techniques for MDS marrow cells will likely further define critical biologic lesions underlying this spectrum of diseases.