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Most models of tumorigenesis assume that the tumor grows by increased cell division. In these models, it is generally supposed that daughter cells behave as do their parents, and cell numbers have clear potential for exponential growth. We have constructed simple mathematical models of tumorigenesis through failure of programmed cell death (PCD) or differentiation. These models do not assume that descendant cells behave as their parents do. The models predict that exponential growth in cell numbers does sometimes occur, usually when stem cells fail to die or differentiate. At other times, exponential growth does not occur: instead, the number of cells in the population reaches a new, higher equilibrium. This behavior is predicted when fully differentiated cells fail to undergo PCD. When cells of intermediate differentiation fail to die or to differentiate further, the values of growth parameters determine whether growth is exponential or leads to a new equilibrium. The predictions of the model are sensitive to small differences in growth parameters. Failure of PCD and differentiation, leading to a new equilibrium number of cells, may explain many aspects of tumor behavior--for example, early premalignant lesions such as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, the fact that some tumors very rarely become malignant, the observation of plateaux in the growth of some solid tumors, and, finally, long lag phases of growth until mutations arise that eventually result in exponential growth.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





11130 - 11134


Apoptosis, Cell Differentiation, Cell Division, Models, Theoretical, Neoplasms, Stem Cells