Natural Sciences and Mathematics


Graduate Biological Sciences

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8 (Special Issue Chromosomal Evolution)


It has been known for over 100 years that cancers have individual karyotypes and arise only years to decades after initiating carcinogens. However, there is still no coherent theory to explain these definitive characteristics of cancer. The prevailing mutation theory holds that cancers are late because the primary cell must accumulate 3–8 causative mutations to become carcinogenic and that mutations, which induce chromosomal instability (CIN), generate the individual karyotypes of cancers. However, since there is still no proven set of mutations that transforms a normal to a cancer cell, we have recently advanced the theory that carcinogenesis is a form of speciation. This theory predicts carcinogens initiate cancer by inducing aneuploidy, which automatically unbalances thousands of genes and thus catalyzes chain-reactions of progressive aneuploidizations. Over time, these aneuploidizations have two endpoints, either non-viable karyotypes or very rarely karyotypes of new autonomous and immortal cancers. Cancer karyotypes are immortalized despite destabilizing congenital aneuploidy by clonal selections for autonomy—similar to those of conventional species. This theory predicts that the very low probability of converting the karyotype of a normal cell to that of a new autonomous cancer species by random aneuploidizations is the reason for the karyotypic individuality of new cancers and for the long latencies from carcinogens to cancers. In testing this theory, we observed: (1) Addition of mutagenic and non-mutagenic carcinogens to normal human and rat cells generated progressive aneuploidizations months before neoplastic transformation. (2) Sub-cloning of a neoplastic rat clone revealed heritable individual karyotypes, rather than the non-heritable karyotypes predicted by the CIN theory. (3) Analyses of neoplastic and preneoplastic karyotypes unexpectedly identified karyotypes with sets of 3–12 new marker chromosomes without detectable intermediates, consistent with single-step origins. We conclude that the speciation theory explains logically the long latencies from carcinogen exposure and the individuality of cancers. In addition, the theory supports the single-step origins of cancers, because karyotypic autonomy is all-or-nothing. Accordingly, we propose that preneoplastic aneuploidy and clonal neoplastic karyotypes provide more reliable therapeutic indications than current analyses of thousands of mutations.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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