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Genetic disorders associated with cancer predisposition and genomic instability.

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Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories, University of Oxford, John Radcliffe Hospital, United Kingdom.


Genomic instability in its broadest sense is a feature of virtually all neoplastic cells. In addition to the mutations and/or gene amplifications that appear to be a prerequisite for the acquisition of a neoplastic phenotype, human cancers exhibit other "markers" of genomic instability--in particular, a high degree of aneuploidy. Indeed, many studies have shown that aneuploidy is an almost invariant feature of cancer cells, and it has been argued by some that the emergence of aneuploid cells is a necessary step during tumorigenesis. The functional link between genomic instability and cancer is strengthened by the existence of several "genetic instability" disorders of humans that are associated with a moderate to severe increase in the incidence of cancers. These disorders include ataxia telangiectasia, Bloom's syndrome, Fanconi anemia, xeroderma pigmentosum, and Nijmegen breakage syndrome, all of which are very rare and are inherited in a recessive manner. Analysis of the cells from such cancer-prone individuals is clearly a potentially fruitful approach for delineating the genetic basis for instability in the genome. It is assumed that by identifying the underlying cause of genetic instability in these disorders, one can derive valuable information not only about the basis of particular genetic diseases, but also about the underlying causes of genomic instability in sporadic cancers in the general population. In this article, we review the clinical and cellular properties of genetic instability disorders associated with cancer predisposition. In particular, we focus on the rapid advances made in our understanding of these disorders that have derived from the cloning of the genes mutated in each case. Because in many instances the affected genes have analogs in lower eukaryotic species, we shall discuss how studies in yeasts in particular have proved valuable in our understanding of human diseases and predisposition to cancer.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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