, Volume 23, Issue 1-2, pp 11-27

Genomic instability and colon cancer

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Abstract

Colorectal cancer affected ∼135,000 people in the United States in 2001, resulting in 57,000 deaths. At the cellular level, colorectal cancer results from the progressive accumulation of genetic and epigenetic alterations that lead to the transformation of normal colonic epithelial cells to colon adenocarcinoma cells. The loss of genomic stability appears to be a key molecular and pathogenetic step that occurs early in the tumorigenesis process and serves to create a permissive environment for the occurrence of alterations in tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes. At least three forms of genomic instability have been identified in colon cancer: (1) microsatellite instability (MSI), (2) chromosome instability (i.e. aneusomy, gains and losses of chromosomal regions) (CIN), and (3) chromosomal translocations. Microsatellite instability occurs in ∼15% of colon cancers and results from inactivation of the mutation mismatch repair (MMR) system by either MMR gene mutations or hypermethylation of the MLH1 promoter. MSI promotes tumorigenesis through generating mutations in target genes that possess coding microsatellite repeats, such as TGFBR2 and BAX. CIN is found in the majority of colon cancers and leads to a different pattern of gene alterations that contribute to tumor formation. CIN appears to result primarily from deregulation of the DNA replication checkpoints and mitotic-spindle checkpoints. The mechanisms that induce and influence genomic instability in cancer in general and more specifically in colon cancer are only partly understood and are consequently under intense investigation. These studies have revealed mutation of the mitotic checkpoint regulators BUB1 and BUBR1 and amplification of STK15 in a subset of CIN colon cancers. The etiology of CIN in the other unexplained cases of colon cancer remains to be determined. Hopefully, discovery of the cause and specific role of genomic instability in colon cancer will yield more effective chemotherapy strategies that take advantage of this unique characteristic of cancer cells.