Chemical carcinogenesis: from animal models to molecular models in one decade

Adv Cancer Res. 1988;50:25-70. doi: 10.1016/s0065-230x(08)60434-0.


During the last decade, progress in chemical carcinogenesis research has been substantial, and understanding the cellular changes and molecular causes of initiation, promotion, and malignant conversion appears to be within reach. Cancer begins as a carcinogen-induced genetic change in a single cell. The interaction of a particular carcinogen with specific genetic sites results, in part, from selectivity of metabolically activated carcinogens for particular nucleosides or gene sequences. In turn, modification of the molecular structure at specific genetic loci will have tissue-specific and species-specific consequences dependent on the expression of a particular gene, its sequence, and the function of the gene product in the target cell. It is likely that inactivation of regulatory regions, genomic rearrangements, and point mutations in coding sequences all can result in an altered cell phenotype. The rasH gene (and perhaps other members of the ras gene family) appears to be a common target for coding sequence mutations in the initiation of carcinogenesis in several organ sites and species by specific carcinogens. Whatever genetic mechanisms are involved, an initiated cell phenotype common to many epithelial cell types is observed. Initiated cells have an altered program of terminal differentiation, are resistant to cytotoxic substances or show altered requirements for specific growth factors or nutrients. These cells would have a selective growth advantage in cytostatic or cytotoxic situations or under conditions favoring terminal differentiation. Tumor promoters, some acting through specific cellular receptors, produce a tissue environment conductive to the selective clonal outgrowth of the initiated cell population resulting in a clinically evident premalignant lesion. The tissue specificity for most promoters depends on the ability of a particular agent to produce the selective conditions required for the initiated phenotype of that organ. At the molecular level, phorbol ester tumor promoters bind to and activate protein kinase C and transduce signals through this second-messenger pathway. Heterogeneity in the species of protein kinase C molecule expressed by normal and initiated epidermal cells could account for the differential response pattern observed in these cell types during skin tumor promotion. Malignant conversion of benign tumors requires further genetic changes in the tumor cell. Such changes could result from inherent instability in the genome of initiated cells, from spontaneous mutations more likely to occur in the expanding population of proliferating benign tumor cells, or by additional exposure to exogenous genotoxic agents.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / metabolism
  • Cricetinae
  • DNA Repair
  • Dogs
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / chemically induced*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / metabolism
  • Oncogenes
  • Rats


  • Carcinogens