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Positive selection in the evolution of cancer

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 June 2006

Bernard J. Crespi
Behavioural Ecology Research Group, Department of Biology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B. C. V5A 1 S6 Canada (E-mail:
Kyle Summers
Department of Biology, East Carolina University, Greenville, N. C. 27858-4353 USA (E-mail:
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We hypothesize that forms of antagonistic coevolution have forged strong links between positive selection at the molecular level and increased cancer risk. By this hypothesis, evolutionary conflict between males and females, mothers and foetuses, hosts and parasites, and other parties with divergent fitness interests has led to rapid evolution of genetic systems involved in control over fertilization and cellular resources. The genes involved in such systems promote cancer risk as a secondary effect of their roles in antagonistic coevolution, which generates evolutionary disequilibrium and maladaptation. Evidence from two sources: (1) studies on specific genes, including SPANX cancer/testis antigen genes, several Y-linked genes, the pem homebox gene, centromeric histone genes, the breast cancer gene BRCA1, the angiogenesis gene ANG, cadherin genes, cytochrome P450 genes, and viral oncogenes; and (2) large-scale database studies of selection on different functional categories of genes, supports our hypothesis. These results have important implications for understanding the evolutionary underpinnings of cancer and the dynamics of antagonistically-coevolving molecular systems.

Review Article
2006 Cambridge Philosophical Society

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