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Title: Open questions: The disrupted circuitry of the cancer cell

Every new decade of biology brings with it a change in outlook driven by new technologies and fresh perspectives. Such is the case for cancer and how we consider the disease. The advent of molecular biology led to the identification of altered signaling molecules and 'oncogenes' that were proposed to drive uncontrolled cell proliferation. The rise of cell biology and new imaging and culturing technologies led to the idea that disruptions in the extracellular environment prime cells for transformation. In the current genomics era, cancer is most commonly seen as a genetic disorder where an unstable genome gives rise to a variety of different cell variants that are selected for proliferation and survival. All of these views are partially correct, of course, and are simply different ways of saying that genetic alterations in cancer cells result in a loss of growth homeostasis. They also take the view that molecular changes 'drive' a cell to grow uncontrollably, rather than tip the balance from one normal state (quiescence) to another (proliferation). Underlying this oversimplification is a profound ignorance of what controls homeostatic cell growth in the first place and how specific mutations impact it. Normal, proliferation-competent cells can accurately monitor their environmentmore » and respond appropriately to perturbation, whether it is a loss of neighbors or an inflammatory stimulus. Cancer cells either proliferate or refuse to die where and when they should not, which clearly indicates that they have problems in detecting or responding to their environment. Thus, an enormous amount of effort has gone into defining the signaling pathways that can trigger a proliferative response and the biochemical mechanisms underlying these pathways. Far less work has focused on understanding the higher-order logic of these pathways and the roles played by all of the components as part of an integrated system. In other words, we do not really understand how cells process information and make decisions and thus cannot predict how any given molecular change will alter what a cell does.« less
  1. Pacific Northwest National Lab. (PNNL), Richland, WA (United States)
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
BMC Biology
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 12; Journal Issue: 1; Journal ID: ISSN 1741-7007
BioMed Central
Research Org:
Pacific Northwest National Lab. (PNNL), Richland, WA (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
Country of Publication:
United States
OSTI Identifier: