The role of deleterious passengers in cancer
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CitationMcFarland, Christopher Dennis. 2014. The role of deleterious passengers in cancer. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractThe development of cancer from a population of precancerous cells is a rapid evolutionary process. During progression, cells evolve several new traits for survive and proliferation via a few key `driver' mutations. However, these few driver alterations reside in a cancer genome alongside tens of thousands of additional `passenger' mutations. Passengers are widely believed to have no role in cancer, yet many passengers fall within functional genomic elements that may have potentially deleterious effects on the cancer cells. Here we investigate the potential of moderately deleterious passengers to accumulate and alter neoplastic progression.
Evolutionary simulations suggest that moderately-deleterious passengers accumulate during progression and largely evade natural selection. Accumulation is possible because of cancer's unique evolutionary constraints: an initially small population size, an elevated mutation rate, and a need to acquire several driver mutations within a short evolutionary timeframe. Cancer dynamics can be theoretically understood as a tug-of-war between rare, strongly-beneficial drives and frequent mildly-deleterious passengers. In this formalism, passengers present a barrier to cancer progression describable by a critical population size, below which most lesions fail to progress, and a critical mutation rate, above which cancers collapse. In essence, cancer progression can be subverted by its own unique evolutionary constraints.
The collective burden of passengers explain several oncological phenomena that are difficult to explain otherwise. Genomics data confirms that many passengers are likely damaging and have largely evaded negative selection, while age-incidence curves and the distribution of mutation totals suggests that drivers and passengers exhibit competing effects. These data also provide estimates of the strength of drivers and passengers.
Finally, we use our model to explore cancer treatments. We identify two broad regimes of adaptive evolutionary dynamics and use these regimes to understand outcomes from various treatment strategies. Our theory explains previously paradoxical treatment outcomes and suggest that passengers could serve as a biomarker of response to mutagenic therapies. Deleterious passengers are targetable by either (i) increasing the mutation rate or (ii) exacerbating their deleterious effects. Our results suggest a unique framework for understanding cancer progression as a balance between driver and passenger mutations.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:13070047
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