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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Nov 20;98(24):13948-53. Epub 2001 Nov 13.

Escaping the stem cell compartment: sustained UVB exposure allows p53-mutant keratinocytes to colonize adjacent epidermal proliferating units without incurring additional mutations.

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Department of Therapeutic Radiology Yale School of Medicine, P.O. Box 208040, New Haven, CT 06520-8040, USA.


Once mutated, a single cell must expand into a clone before becoming significant for carcinogenesis. The forces driving clonal expansion and the obstacles that must be overcome are poorly understood. In a genetic mechanism, acquiring a second mutation conferring a proliferative advantage would enable the cell to expand autonomously. If carcinogen exposure instead induced a physiological change, clonal expansion would require the carcinogen's continued presence. To determine which is the case, we studied microscopic clones of keratinocytes mutated in the p53 tumor suppressor gene. Carcinogen exposure was controlled by irradiating mice with 280-320 nm UV radiation (UVB), sunlight's principal carcinogenic component; expansion of mutant clones was observed in epidermal sheets. p53-mutant clones grew only during chronic UVB exposure. Therefore, clonal expansion was not triggered by a proliferative mutation but was instead continually driven by UVB. Unexpectedly, the clone size distribution showed periodicity with maxima at estimated intervals of 16 +/- 6 cells, the size of the epidermal proliferating unit in murine dorsal skin. In the absence of UVB, rare "imprisoned clones" increased in cell number without increasing in area. We conclude that: stem cell compartments act as physical barriers to clonal expansion of a p53-mutant keratinocyte; a rate-limiting step in clonal expansion is the colonization of an adjacent compartment; and sustained UVB enables the p53-mutant keratinocyte to colonize without incurring an additional mutation.

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