The pathogenesis of mesothelioma

Semin Oncol. 2002 Feb;29(1):2-17. doi: 10.1053/sonc.2002.30227.


About 80% of malignant mesotheliomas (MM) in the Western World develop in individuals with higher than background exposure to asbestos. Only a fraction of those exposed to asbestos develop mesothelioma, indicating that additional factors play a role. Simian virus 40 (SV40), a DNA tumor virus that preferentially causes mesothelioma in hamsters, has been detected in several human mesotheliomas. The expression of the SV40 large tumor antigen in mesothelioma cells, and not in nearby stromal cells, and the capacity of antisense T-antigen treatment to arrest mesothelioma cell growth in vitro suggest that SV40 contributes to tumor development. The capacity of T-antigen to bind and inhibit cellular p53 and retinoblastoma (Rb)-family proteins in mesothelioma, together with the very high susceptibility of human mesothelial cells to SV40-mediated transformation in vitro, supports a causative role of SV40 in the pathogenesis of mesothelioma. Asbestos appears to increase SV40-mediated transformation of human mesothelial cells in vitro, suggesting that asbestos and SV40 may be cocarcinogens. p53 mutations are rarely found in mesothelioma; p16, p14ARF, and NF2 mutations/losses are frequent. Recent studies revealed the existence of a genetic factor that predisposes affected individuals to mesothelioma in the villages of Karain and Tuzkoy, in Anatolia, Turkey. Erionite, a type of zeolite, may be a cofactor in these same villages, where 50% of deaths are caused by mesothelioma. Mesothelioma appears to have a complex etiology in which environmental carcinogens (asbestos and erionite), ionizing radiation, viruses, and genetic factors act alone or in concert to cause malignancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asbestos / adverse effects
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Genes, Tumor Suppressor
  • Humans
  • Mesothelioma / epidemiology
  • Mesothelioma / etiology*
  • Mesothelioma / genetics
  • Mesothelioma / virology
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced
  • Neoplasms, Second Primary
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Pleural Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Pleural Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Pleural Neoplasms / genetics
  • Pleural Neoplasms / virology
  • Polyomavirus Infections
  • Simian virus 40
  • Tumor Virus Infections
  • Turkey / epidemiology
  • Zeolites / adverse effects


  • erionite
  • Zeolites
  • Asbestos