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Unexpected functional similarities between gatekeeper tumour suppressor genes and proto-oncogenes revealed by systems biology


Familial tumor suppressor genes comprise two subgroups: caretaker genes (CTs) that repair DNA, and gatekeeper genes (GKs) that trigger cell death. Since GKs may also induce cell cycle delay and thus enhance cell survival by facilitating DNA repair, we hypothesized that the prosurvival phenotype of GKs could be selected during cancer progression, and we used a multivariable systems biology approach to test this. We performed multidimensional data analysis, non-negative matrix factorization and logistic regression to compare the features of GKs with those of their putative antagonists, the proto-oncogenes (POs), as well as with control groups of CTs and functionally unrelated congenital heart disease genes (HDs). GKs and POs closely resemble each other, but not CTs or HDs, in terms of gene structure (P<0.001), expression level and breadth (P<0.01), DNA methylation signature (P<0.001) and evolutionary rate (P<0.001). The similar selection pressures and epigenetic trajectories of GKs and POs so implied suggest a common functional attribute that is strongly negatively selected-that is, a shared phenotype that enhances cell survival. The counterintuitive finding of similar evolutionary pressures affecting GKs and POs raises an intriguing possibility: namely, that cancer microevolution is accelerated by an epistatic cascade in which upstream suppressor gene defects subvert the normal bifunctionality of wild-type GKs by constitutively shifting the phenotype away from apoptosis towards survival. If correct, this interpretation would explain the hitherto unexplained phenomenon of frequent wild-type GK (for example, p53) overexpression in tumors.

Type Journal
ISBN 1435-232X (Electronic) 1434-5161 (Linking)
Authors Zhao, Y.; Epstein, R. J.;
Published Date 2011-01-01
Published Volume 56
Published Issue 5
Published Pages 369-76
Status Published in-print
URL link to publisher's version