Nucleolus, ribosomes, and cancer

Am J Pathol. 2008 Aug;173(2):301-10. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2008.070752. Epub 2008 Jun 26.


The complex aspects linking the nucleolus and ribosome biogenesis to cancer are reviewed here. The available evidence indicates that the morphological and functional changes in the nucleolus, widely observed in cancer tissues, are a consequence of both the increased demand for ribosome biogenesis, which characterizes proliferating cells, and the changes in the mechanisms controlling cell proliferation. In fact, the loss or functional changes in the two major tumor suppressor proteins pRB and p53 cause an up-regulation of ribosome biogenesis in cancer tissues. In this context, the association in human carcinomas of nucleolar hypertrophy with bad prognoses is worthy of note. Further, an increasing amount of data coming from studies on both hepatitis virus-induced chronic liver diseases and a subset of rare inherited disorders, including X-linked dyskeratosis congenita, suggests an active role of the nucleolus in tumorigenesis. Both an up-regulation of ribosome production and changes in the ribosome structure might causally contribute to neoplastic transformation, by affecting the balance of protein translation, thus altering the synthesis of proteins that play an important role in the genesis of cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cell Nucleolus / physiology*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • RNA, Ribosomal / physiology*
  • Retinoblastoma Protein / physiology
  • Ribosomes / physiology*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / physiology


  • RNA, Ribosomal
  • Retinoblastoma Protein
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53