Developmental programming of tumor suppressor gene penetrance

Jennifer DeAnn Cook, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Epidemiological studies have led to the hypothesis that major risk factors for developing diseases such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and adult-onset diabetes are established during development. This developmental programming hypothesis proposes that exposure to an adverse stimulus or insult at critical, sensitive periods of development can induce permanent alterations in normal physiological processes that lead to increased disease risk later in life. For cancer, inheritance of a tumor suppressor gene defect confers a high relative risk for disease development. However, these defects are rarely 100% penetrant. Traditionally, gene-environment interactions are thought to contribute to the penetrance of tumor suppressor gene defects by facilitating or inhibiting the acquisition of additional somatic mutations required for tumorigenesis. The studies presented herein identify developmental programming as a distinctive type of gene-environment interaction that can enhance the penetrance of a tumor suppressor gene defect in adult life. Using rats predisposed to uterine leiomyoma due to a germ-line defect in one allele of the tuberous sclerosis complex 2 (Tsc-2) tumor suppressor gene, these studies show that early-life exposure to the xenoestrogen, diethylstilbestrol (DES), during development of the uterus increased tumor incidence, multiplicity and size in genetically predisposed animals, but failed to induce tumors in wild-type rats. Uterine leiomyomas are ovarian-hormone dependent tumors that develop from the uterine myometrium. DES exposure was shown to developmentally program the myometrium, causing increased expression of estrogen-responsive genes prior to the onset of tumors. Loss of function of the normal Tsc-2 allele remained the rate-limiting event for tumorigenesis; however, tumors that developed in exposed animals displayed an enhanced proliferative response to ovarian steroid hormones relative to tumors that developed in unexposed animals. Furthermore, the studies presented herein identify developmental periods during which target tissues are maximally susceptible to developmental programming. These data suggest that exposure to environmental factors during critical periods of development can permanently alter normal physiological tissue responses and thus lead to increased disease risk in genetically susceptible individuals.

Subject Area

Cellular biology

Recommended Citation

Cook, Jennifer DeAnn, "Developmental programming of tumor suppressor gene penetrance" (2006). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3209528.