Urothelial carcinoma (UC), the common histological subtype of bladder cancer, presents as a papillary tumor or as an invasive, often lethal form. To study UC molecular biology, candidate gene and genome-wide approaches have been followed. Here, it is argued that a 'cancer pathway' perspective is useful to integrate findings from both approaches. According to this view, papillary cancers typically exhibit activation of the MAPK pathway, as a consequence of oncogenic mutations in FGFR3 or HRAS, with increased Cyclin D1 expression. In contrast, invasive UC are characterized by severe disturbances in proximate cell cycle regulators, e.g. RB1 and CDKN2A/p16(INK4A), which decrease dependency on mitogenic signaling. In addition, these disturbances permit, promote and are in turn exacerbated by chromosomal instability, which is further enhanced by loss of TP53 function. In another vicious cycle, defective cell cycle regulation interacts with DNA methylation alterations. The transition toward invasive UC may require concomitant and interacting defects in cell cycle regulation and the control of genomic stability. Intriguingly, neither canonical WNT/beta-Catenin nor hedgehog signaling appear to play major roles in UC. This may reflect its origin from more differentiated urothelial cells possessing a high regenerative potential rather than a stem cell population.
Copyright 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.