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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Mar 28;97(7):3236-41.

Aneuploidy vs. gene mutation hypothesis of cancer: recent study claims mutation but is found to support aneuploidy.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Stanley Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


For nearly a century, cancer has been blamed on somatic mutation. But it is still unclear whether this mutation is aneuploidy, an abnormal balance of chromosomes, or gene mutation. Despite enormous efforts, the currently popular gene mutation hypothesis has failed to identify cancer-specific mutations with transforming function and cannot explain why cancer occurs only many months to decades after mutation by carcinogens and why solid cancers are aneuploid, although conventional mutation does not depend on karyotype alteration. A recent high-profile publication now claims to have solved these discrepancies with a set of three synthetic mutant genes that "suffices to convert normal human cells into tumorigenic cells." However, we show here that even this study failed to explain why it took more than "60 population doublings" from the introduction of the first of these genes, a derivative of the tumor antigen of simian virus 40 tumor virus, to generate tumor cells, why the tumor cells were clonal although gene transfer was polyclonal, and above all, why the tumor cells were aneuploid. If aneuploidy is assumed to be the somatic mutation that causes cancer, all these results can be explained. The aneuploidy hypothesis predicts the long latent periods and the clonality on the basis of the following two-stage mechanism: stage one, a carcinogen (or mutant gene) generates aneuploidy; stage two, aneuploidy destabilizes the karyotype and thus initiates an autocatalytic karyotype evolution generating preneoplastic and eventually neoplastic karyotypes. Because the odds are very low that an abnormal karyotype will surpass the viability of a normal diploid cell, the evolution of a neoplastic cell species is slow and thus clonal, which is comparable to conventional evolution of new species.

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