Genetic instability and clonal expansion

Martin A. Nowak, Franziska Michor, Yoh Iwasa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Inactivation of tumor suppressor genes can lead to clonal expansion. We study the evolutionary dynamics of this process and calculate the probability that inactivation of a tumor suppressor gene is preceded by mutations in genes that confer genetic instability. Unstable cells might have a slower rate of clonal expansion than stable cells because of an increased probability of generating lethal mutations or inducing apoptosis. We show that the different growth rates of genetically stable and unstable cells during clonal expansion represent, in general, only a small disadvantage for genetic instability. The intuitive reason for this conclusion is that robust clonal expansion, where cellular birth rates are significantly greater than death rates, occurs on a much faster time scale than waiting for those mutations that allow clonal expansion. Moreover, in special cases where clonal expansion is very slow, genetically unstable cells have a higher probability to accumulate additional mutations during clonal expansion that confer a selective advantage. Clonal expansion represents a major disadvantage for genetic instability only when inactivation of the tumor suppressor gene leads to a very small increase of the cellular reproductive rate that is cancelled by the increased mortality of unstable cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-32
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 7 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modelling and Simulation
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Applied Mathematics


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