MYC, Cell Competition, and Cell Death in Cancer: The Inseparable Triad

Genes (Basel). 2017 Apr 17;8(4):120. doi: 10.3390/genes8040120.


Deregulation of MYC family proteins in cancer is associated with a global reprogramming of gene expression, ultimately promoting glycolytic pathways, cell growth, and proliferation. It is well known that MYC upregulation triggers cell-autonomous apoptosis in normal tissues, while frankly malignant cells develop resistance to apoptotic stimuli, partly resulting from MYC addiction. As well as inducing cell-autonomous apoptosis, MYC upregulation is able to trigger non cell-autonomous apoptotic death through an evolutionarily conserved mechanism known as "cell competition". With regard to this intimate and dual relationship between MYC and cell death, recent evidence obtained in Drosophila models of cancer has revealed that, in early tumourigenesis, MYC upregulation guides the clonal expansion of mutant cells, while the surrounding tissue undergoes non-cell autonomous death. Apoptosis inhibition in this context was shown to restrain tumour growth and to restore a wild-type phenotype. This suggests that cell-autonomous and non cell-autonomous apoptosis dependent on MYC upregulation may shape tumour growth in different ways, soliciting the need to reconsider the role of cell death in cancer in the light of this new level of complexity. Here we review recent literature about MYC and cell competition obtained in Drosophila, with a particular emphasis on the relevance of cell death to cell competition and, more generally, to cancer. Possible implications of these findings for the understanding of mammalian cancers are also discussed.

Keywords: Drosophila; MYC; apoptosis; cancer; cell competition.

Publication types

  • Review