Liqin Zhu, David Finkelstein, Culian Gao, Lei Shi, Yongdong Wang, Dolores López-Terrada, Kasper Wang, Sarah Utley, Stanley Pounds, Geoffrey Neale, David Ellison, Arzu Onar-Thomas, Richard James Gilbertson
Cancers are distributed unevenly across the body, but the importance of cell intrinsic factors such as stem cell function in determining organ cancer risk is unknown. Therefore, we used Cre-recombination of conditional lineage tracing, oncogene, and tumor suppressor alleles to define populations of stem and non-stem cells in mouse organs and test their life-long susceptibility to tumorigenesis. We show that tumor incidence is determined by the life-long generative capacity of mutated cells. This relationship held true in the presence of multiple genotypes and regardless of developmental stage, strongly supporting the notion that stem cells dictate organ cancer risk. Using the liver as a model system, we further show that damage-induced activation of stem cell function markedly increases cancer risk. Therefore, we propose that a combination of stem cell mutagenesis and extrinsic factors that enhance the proliferation of these cell populations, creates a “perfect storm” that ultimately determines organ cancer risk.