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Biol Open. 2013 Jan 15;2(1):49-62. doi: 10.1242/bio.20122543. Epub 2012 Nov 2.

A systems approach defining constraints of the genome architecture on lineage selection and evolvability during somatic cancer evolution.

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  • 1Independent Institute of Systems Sciences Aachen , 52064 Aachen , Germany ; Department of Dermatology, RWTH Aachen University , 52074 Aachen , Germany.


Most clinically distinguishable malignant tumors are characterized by specific mutations, specific patterns of chromosomal rearrangements and a predominant mechanism of genetic instability but it remains unsolved whether modifications of cancer genomes can be explained solely by mutations and selection through the cancer microenvironment.It has been suggested that internal dynamics of genomic modifications as opposed to the external evolutionary forces have a significant and complex impact on Darwinian species evolution. A similar situation can be expected for somatic cancer evolution as molecular key mechanisms encountered in species evolution also constitute prevalent mutation mechanisms in human cancers. This assumption is developed into a systems approach of carcinogenesis which focuses on possible inner constraints of the genome architecture on lineage selection during somatic cancer evolution. The proposed systems approach can be considered an analogy to the concept of evolvability in species evolution.The principal hypothesis is that permissive or restrictive effects of the genome architecture on lineage selection during somatic cancer evolution exist and have a measurable impact. The systems approach postulates three classes of lineage selection effects of the genome architecture on somatic cancer evolution: i) effects mediated by changes of fitness of cells of cancer lineage, ii) effects mediated by changes of mutation probabilities and iii) effects mediated by changes of gene designation and physical and functional genome redundancy. Physical genome redundancy is the copy number of identical genetic sequences. Functional genome redundancy of a gene or a regulatory element is defined as the number of different genetic elements, regardless of copy number, coding for the same specific biological function within a cancer cell. Complex interactions of the genome architecture on lineage selection may be expected when modifications of the genome architecture have multiple and possibly opposed effects which manifest themselves at disparate times and progression stages.Dissection of putative mechanisms mediating constraints exerted by the genome architecture on somatic cancer evolution may provide an algorithm for understanding and predicting as well as modifying somatic cancer evolution in individual patients.


Carcinogenesis; Evolvability; Genome architecture; Somatic cancer evolution

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