Origin of metastases: Subspecies of cancers generated by intrinsic karyotypic variations

Peter Duesberg, Christine Iacobuzio-Donahue, Jackie Brosnan, Amanda McCormack, Daniele Mandrioli, Lewis Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Conventional mutation theories do not explain (1) why the karyotypes of metastases are related to those of parental cancers but not to those of metastases of other cancers and (2) why cancers metastasize at rates that often far exceed those of conventional mutations. To answer these questions, we advance here the theory that metastases are autonomous subspecies of cancers, rather than mutations. Since cancers are species with intrinsically flexible karyotypes, they can generate new subspecies by spontaneous karyotypic rearrangements. This phylogenetic theory predicts that metastases are karyotypically related to parental cancers but not to others. Testing these predictions on metastases from two pancreatic cancers, we found: (1) Metastases had individual karyotypes and phenotypes. The karyotypes of metastases were related to, but different from, those of parental cancers in 11 out of 37 and 26 out of 49 parental chromosomal units. Chromosomal units are defined as intact chromosomes with cancer-specific copy numbers and marker chromosomes that are > 50% clonal. (2) Metastases from the two different cancers did not share chromosomal units. Testing the view that multi-chromosomal rearrangements occur simultaneously in cancers, as opposed to sequentially, we found spontaneous non-clonal rearrangements with as many new chromosomal units as in authentic metastases. We conclude that metastases are individual autonomous species differing from each other and parental cancers in species-specific karyotypes and phenotypes. They are generated from parental cancers by multiple simultaneous karyotypic rearrangements, much like new species. The species-specific individualities of metastases explain why so many searches for commonalities have been unsuccessful.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1151-1166
Number of pages16
JournalCell Cycle
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 15 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Cancer autonomy
  • High rates of karyotypic variation
  • Intrinsic instability of aneuploidy
  • Marker chromosomes
  • Multi-chromosomal rearrangements
  • Saltational evolution
  • Speciation
  • Stabilization of karyotype by selection for autonomy
  • Stochastic karyotypic variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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