Microsatellite instabilityAtkin N.B.
Department of Cancer Research, Mount Vernon Hospital, Northwood, Middlesex (UK)
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Unlike aneuploidy, considered to be the cardinal feature of malignant tumors ever since the chromosomal analysis of neoplastic cells became technically feasible, a second pathway toward malignancy has emerged over the past decade that is not characterized by gross aneuploidy but, instead, by inactivation of the DNA mismatch repair system, leading to a hypermutable state in which simple repetitive DNA sequences are unstable during DNA replication. Although mutations of many of these microsatellite sequences are presumably innocuous, because they do not occur in the coding or regulatory regions of genes, other such sequences are critically located in the coding regions of genes involved in the regulation of cell growth. First discovered in the rather uncommon hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer syndrome, where there is an inactivating germline mutation in one of the DNA mismatch repair genes and most of the tumors show microsatellite instability, the latter phenomenon has since been implicated in about 15% of sporadic colorectal cancers, as well as in cancers at several other sites, such as the endometrium. Tumors showing microsatellite instability are generally near-diploid, are at a low stage of development, have a favorable prognosis, and, in the colon, are commonly located on the right side. In recent years, epigenetic phenomena, including hypermethylation and loss of imprinting, have come to be recognized as having a significant bearing on the development of these tumors.
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