c-Myc induction of programmed cell death may contribute to carcinogenesis: a perspective inspired by several concepts of chemical carcinogenesis

Cancer Biol Ther. 2011 Apr 1;11(7):615-26. doi: 10.4161/cbt.11.7.14688. Epub 2011 Apr 1.


The c-Myc protein, encoded by c-myc gene, in its wild-type form can induce tumors with a high frequency and can induce massive programmed cell death (PCD) in most transgenic mouse models, with greater efficiency than other oncogenes. Evidence also indicates that c-Myc can cause proliferative inhibition, i.e. mitoinhibition. The c-Myc-induced PCD and mitoinhibition, which may be attributable to its inhibition of cyclin D1 and induction of p53, may impose a pressure of compensatory proliferation, i.e. regeneration, onto the initiated cells (cancer progenitor cells) that occur sporadically and are resistant to the mitoinhibition. The initiated cells can thus proliferate robustly and progress to a malignancy. This hypothetical thinking, i.e. the concurrent PCD and mitoinhibition induced by c-Myc can promote carcinogenesis, predicts that an optimal balance is achieved between cell death and ensuing regeneration during oncogenic transformation by c-Myc, which can better promote carcinogenesis. In this perspective, we summarize accumulating evidence and challenge the current model that oncoprotein induces carcinogenesis by promoting cellular proliferation and/or inhibiting PCD. Inspired by c-myc oncogene, we surmise that many tumor-suppressive or growth-inhibitory genes may also be able to promote carcinogenesis in a similar way, i.e. by inducing PCD and/or mitoinhibition of normal cells to create a need for compensatory proliferation that drives a robust replication of initiating cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Apoptosis / genetics*
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / chemically induced*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics*
  • Cyclin D / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Cyclin D / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Oncogene Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / genetics*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / metabolism*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism


  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Cyclin D
  • Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53