Primary Causes: DNA Damage/deficient DNA Repair
DNA damage is considered to be the primary underlying cause of malignant neoplasms (cancers). Its central role in progression to cancer is illustrated in the figure in this section, in the box near the top. (The central features of DNA damage, epigenetic alterations and deficient DNA repair in progression to cancer are shown in red.) DNA damage is very common. Naturally occurring DNA damages (mostly due to cellular metabolism and the properties of DNA in water at body temperatures) occur at a rate of more than 10,000 new damages, on average, per human cell, per day . Additional DNA damages can arise from exposure to exogenous agents. Tobacco smoke causes increased exogenous DNA damage, and these DNA damages are the likely cause of lung cancer due to smoking. UV light from solar radiation causes DNA damage that is important in melanoma. Helicobacter pylori infection produces high levels of reactive oxygen species that damage DNA and contributes to gastric cancer. Bile acids, at high levels in the colons of humans eating a high fat diet, also cause DNA damage and contribute to colon cancer. Katsurano et al. indicated that macrophages and neutrophils in an inflamed colonic epithelium are the source of reactive oxygen species causing the DNA damages that initiate colonic tumorigenesis. Some sources of DNA damage are indicated in the boxes at the top of the figure in this section.
Individuals with a germ line mutation causing deficiency in any of 34 DNA repair genes (see article DNA repair-deficiency disorder) are at increased risk of cancer. Some germ line mutations in DNA repair genes cause up to 100% lifetime chance of cancer (e.g. p53 mutations). These germ line mutations are indicated in a box at the left of the figure with an arrow indicating their contribution to DNA repair deficiency.
About 70% of malignant neoplasms have no hereditary component and are called "sporadic cancers". Only a minority of sporadic cancers have a deficiency in DNA repair due to mutation in a DNA repair gene. However, a majority of sporadic cancers have deficiency in DNA repair due to epigenetic alterations that reduce or silence DNA repair gene expression. For example, for 113 sequential colorectal cancers, only four had a missense mutation in the DNA repair gene MGMT, while the majority had reduced MGMT expression due to methylation of the MGMT promoter region (an epigenetic alteration). Five reports present evidence that between 40% and 90% of colorectal cancers have reduced MGMT expression due to methylation of the MGMT promoter region.
Similarly, out of 119 cases of mismatch repair-deficient colorectal cancers that lacked DNA repair gene PMS2 expression, PMS2 was deficient in 6 due to mutations in the PMS2 gene, while in 103 cases PMS2 expression was deficient because its pairing partner MLH1 was repressed due to promoter methylation (PMS2 protein is unstable in the absence of MLH1). In the other 10 cases, loss of PMS2 expression was likely due to epigenetic overexpression of the microRNA, miR-155, which down-regulates MLH1.
In further examples, epigenetic defects were found at frequencies of between 13%-100% for the DNA repair genes BRCA1, WRN, FANCB, FANCF, MGMT, MLH1, MSH2, MSH4, ERCC1, XPF, NEIL1 and ATM. These epigenetic defects occurred in various cancers (e.g. breast, ovarian, colorectal and head and neck). Two or three deficiencies in expression of ERCC1, XPF and/or PMS2 occur simultaneously in the majority of the 49 colon cancers evaluated by Facista et al. Epigenetic alterations causing reduced expression of DNA repair genes is shown in a central box at the third level from the top of the figure in this section, and the consequent DNA repair deficiency is shown at the fourth level.
When expression of DNA repair genes is reduced, DNA damages accumulate in cells at a higher than normal level, and these excess damages cause increased frequencies of mutation and/or epimutation. Mutation rates strongly increase in cells defective in DNA mismatch repair or in homologous recombinational repair (HRR).
During repair of DNA double strand breaks, or repair of other DNA damages, incompletely cleared sites of repair can cause epigenetic gene silencing. DNA repair deficiencies (level 4 in the figure) cause increased DNA damages (level 5 in the figure) which result in increased somatic mutations and epigenetic alterations (level 6 in the figure).
Field defects, normal appearing tissue with multiple alterations (and discussed in the section below), are common precursors to development of the disordered and improperly proliferating clone of tissue in a malignant neoplasm. Such field defects (second level from bottom of figure) may have multiple mutations and epigenetic alterations.
Once a cancer is formed, it usually has genome instability. This instability is likely due to reduced DNA repair or excessive DNA damage. Because of such instability, the cancer continues to evolve and to produce sub clones. For example, a renal cancer, sampled in 9 areas, had 40 ubiquitous mutations (i.e. present in all areas of the cancer), 59 mutations shared by some (but not all areas), and 29 “private” mutations only present in one of the areas of the cancer.
Famous quotes containing the words repair, deficient, dna and/or damage:
“The United Nations cannot do anything, and never could; it is not an animate entity or agent. It is a place, a stage, a forum and a shrine ... a place to which powerful people can repair when they are fearful about the course on which their own rhetoric seems to be propelling them.”
—Conor Cruise OBrien (b. 1917)
“Regularity and Decorum. Tis what we women-authors, in particular, have been thought greatly deficient in; and I should be concerned to find it an objection not to be removed.”
—Elizabeth Cooper (fl. 1730s)
“Here [in London, history] ... seemed the very fabric of things, as if the city were a single growth of stone and brick, uncounted strata of message and meaning, age upon age, generated over the centuries to the dictates of some now all-but-unreadable DNA of commerce and empire.”
—William Gibson (b. 1948)
“For most Northerners, Texas is the home of real men. The cowboys, the rednecks, the outspoken self-made right-wing millionaires strike us as either the best or worst examples of American manliness.... The ideal is not an illusion nor is it contemptible, no matter what damage it may have done. Many people who scorn it in conversation want to submit to it in bed. Those who believe machismo reeks of violence alone choose to forget it once stood for honor as well.”
—Edmund White (b. 1940)