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Carcinogenesis. 2005 Dec;26(12):2031-45. Epub 2005 Sep 8.

Tumor suppressor genetics.

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  • 1Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA 90109, USA.


The observation that mutations in tumor suppressor genes can have haploinsufficient, as well as gain of function and dominant negative, phenotypes has caused a reevaluation of the 'two-hit' model of tumor suppressor inactivation. Here we examine the history of haploinsufficiency and tumor suppressors in order to understand the origin of the 'two-hit' dogma. The two-hit model of tumor suppressor gene inactivation was derived from mathematical modeling of cancer incidence. Subsequent interpretations implied that tumor suppressors were recessive, requiring mutations in both alleles. This model has provided a useful conceptual framework for three decades of research on the genetics and biology of tumor suppressor genes. Recently it has become clear that mutations in tumor suppressor genes are not always completely recessive. Haploinsufficiency occurs when one allele is insufficient to confer the full functionality produced from two wild-type alleles. Haploinsufficiency, however, is not an absolute property. It can be partial or complete and can vary depending on tissue type, other epistatic interactions, and environmental factors. In addition to simple quantitative differences (one allele versus two alleles), gene mutations can have qualitative differences, creating gain of function or dominant negative effects that can be difficult to distinguish from dosage-dependence. Like mutations in many other genes, tumor suppressor gene mutations can be haploinsufficient, dominant negative or gain of function in addition to recessive. Thus, under certain circumstances, one hit may be sufficient for inactivation. In addition, the phenotypic penetrance of these mutations can vary depending on the nature of the mutation itself, the genetic background, the tissue type, environmental factors and other variables. Incorporating these new findings into existing models of the clonal evolution will be a challenge for the future.

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