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Front Biosci. 1998 Feb 15;3:d208-36.

Cell-cell communication in carcinogenesis.

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Department of Pediatrics and Human Development, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA.


To explain the complex carcinogenic process by which a single normal cell in human beings can be converted to an invasive and metastatic cancer cell, a number of experimental findings, epidemiological observations and their associated hypothesis/theories have been integrated in this review. All cancers have been generally viewed as the result of a disruption of the homeostatic regulation of a cell's ability to respond appropriately to extra-cellular signals of the body which trigger intra-cellular signal transducting mechanisms which modulate gap junctional intercellular communication between the cells within a tissue. Normal homeostatic control of these three forms of cell communication determines whether: (a) the cell remains quiescent (Go); (b) enters into the cell proliferation phase; (c) is induced to differentiate; (d) is committed to apoptose; or (e) if it is already differentiated, it can adaptively respond. During the evolution from single cell organisms to multicellular organisms, new cellular/biological functions appeared, namely, the control of cell proliferation ("contact inhibition"), the appearance of the process of differentiation from committed stem cells of the various tissues and the need for programmed cell death or apoptosis. Interestingly, cancer cells have been characterized as cells: (a) having been derived from a stem-like cell; (b) without their ability to control cell growth or without the ability to contact inhibit; (c) which can not terminally differentiate under normal conditions; and (d) having altered ability to apoptosis under normal conditions. During that evolutionary transition from the single cell organism to the multicellular organism, many new genes appeared to accompany these new cellular functions. One of these new genes was the gene coding for a membrane associated protein channel (the gap junction) which between coupled cells, allowed the passive transfer on ions and small molecular weight molecules. A family of over a dozen of these highly evolutionarily-conserved genes (the connexin genes) coded for the connexin proteins. A hexameric unit of these connexins in one cell (a connexon) couples with a corresponding connexon in a contiguous cell to join the cytoplasms. This serves to synchronize either the metabolic or electrotonic functions of cells within a tissue. Most normal cells within solid tissues have functional gap junctional intercellular communication (GJIC) (exceptions are free-standing cells such as red blood cells, neutrophils, and several, if not all, the stem cells). On the other hand, the cancer cells of solid tissues appear to have either dysfunctional homologous or heterologous GJIC. Therefore, among the many differences between a cancer cell and its normal parental cell, the carcinogenic process involves the transition from a normal, GJIC-competent cell to one that is defective in GJIC. The review examines how GJIC can be either transiently or stably modulated by endogenous or exogenesis chemicals or by oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes at the transcriptional, translational, or posttranslational levels. It also uses the gap junction as the biological structure to facilitate cellular/tissue homeostasis to be the integrator for the "stem cell" theory, "disease of differentiation theory", "initiation/promotion/progression" concepts, nature and nurture concept of carcinogenesis, the mutation/ epigenetic theories of carcinogenesis, and the oncogene/ tumor suppressor gene theories of carcinogenesis. From this background, implications to cancer prevention and cancer therapy are generated.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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