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Cancer Res. 2005 Sep 15;65(18):8111-7.

A quantitative measurement of the human somatic mutation rate.

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Division of Hematology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York, USA.

Erratum in

  • Cancer Res. 2005 Nov 15;65(22):10635.


The mutation rate (mu) is a key biological feature of somatic cells that determines risk for malignant transformation, and it has been exceedingly difficult to measure in human cells. For this purpose, a potential sentinel is the X-linked PIG-A gene, because its inactivation causes lack of glycosylphosphatidylinositol-linked membrane proteins. We previously found that the frequency (f) of PIG-A mutant cells can be measured accurately by flow cytometry, even when f is very low. Here we measure both f and mu by culturing B-lymphoblastoid cell lines and first eliminating preexisting PIG-A mutants by flow sorting. After expansion in culture, the frequency of new mutants is determined by flow cytometry using antibodies specific for glycosylphosphatidylinositol-linked proteins (e.g., CD48, CD55, and CD59). The mutation rate is then calculated by the formula mu = f/d, where d is the number of cell divisions occurring in culture. The mean mu in cells from normal donors was 10.6 x 10(-7) mutations per cell division (range 2.4 to 29.6 x 10(-7)). The mean mu was elevated >30-fold in cells from patients with Fanconi anemia (P < 0.0001), and mu varied widely in ataxia-telangiectasia with a mean 4-fold elevation (P = 0.002). In contrast, mu was not significantly different from normal in cells from patients with Nijmegen breakage syndrome. Differences in mu could not be attributed to variations in plating efficiency. The mutation rate in man can now be measured routinely in B-lymphoblastoid cell lines, and it is elevated in cancer predisposition syndromes. This system should be useful in evaluating cancer risk and in the design of preventive strategies.

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