Cell Reversal From a Differentiated to a Stem-Like State at Cancer Initiation

Front Oncol. 2020 Apr 15;10:541. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2020.00541. eCollection 2020.


Even if the Somatic Mutation Theory of carcinogenesis explains many of the relevant experimental results in tumor origin and development, there are frequent events that are not justified, or are even contradictory to this widely accepted theory. A Cell Reversal Theory is presented, putting forward the hypothesis that cancer is originated by reversal of a differentiated cell into a non-differentiated stem-like state, by a change of its intrinsic epigenetic state, following a perturbation on the cell and/or its microenvironment. In the current proposal a cluster of cancer stem cells can be established, without the strict control mechanisms of a normal stem cell niche, and initiate a tumor. It is proposed that a reversal to a pluripotent state is at tumor origin and not tumor progress that prompts cell dedifferentiation. The uncontrolled proliferation of cancer stem cells causes a microenvironment disorganization, resulting in stressful conditions, like hypoxia and nutrient deprivation, which induces the genetic instability characteristic of a tumor; thus, in most cases, mutations are a consequence and not the direct cause of a tumor. It is also proposed that metastases result from dedifferentiation signaling dispersion instead of cell migration. However, conceivably, once the microenvironment is normalized, the stem cell-like state can differentiate back to a mature cell state and loose its oncogenic capacity. Therefore, this can be a reversible condition, suggesting important therapeutic opportunities.

Keywords: cancer; cancer stem cells; carcinogenesis; dedifferentiation; epigenetics; reprogramming.