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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Oct 1;99(20):13085-9. Epub 2002 Sep 26.

Metapopulation dynamics and spatial heterogeneity in cancer.

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Department of Pathology, Yale University School of Medicine and Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


With the advent of drugs targeting specific molecular defects in cancerous cells [Gorre, M. E., et al. (2001) Science 293, 876-880], it is important to understand the degree of genetic heterogeneity present in tumor cell populations and the rules that govern microdiversity in human cancer. Here, we first show that populations with different genotypes in genes influencing cell growth and programmed cell death coexist in advanced malignant tumors of the colon, exhibiting microsatellite instability. Detailed, physical mapping of the diverse populations shows them to be arranged in small, intermingling areas, resulting in a variegated pattern of diversity. Using computational modeling of the experimental data, we find that the coexistence between similar competitors is enhanced, instead of deterred, by spatial dynamics [Hanski, I. (1999) Metapopulation Dynamics (Oxford Univ. Press, New York)]. The model suggests a simple and plausible scenario for the generation of spatial heterogeneity during tumor progression. The emergence and persistence of the patterns of diversity encountered in the tumors can be generated without a need to invoke differences in mutation rates, neutrality of interactions, or separated time scales. We posit that the rules that apply to spatial ecology and explain the maintenance of diversity are also at work in tumors and may underlie tumor microheterogeneity.

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