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The roles of the intrinsic mutation rate and genomic instability in tumorigenesis are currently controversial. In most colorectal tumours, it is generally supposed that the first mutations occur at the adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) locus; APC mutations are thought to provide cells with a selective advantage but have no known effect on the mutation rate. It has also been suggested that genomic instability is the initiating event in colorectal tumorigenesis and, if this is true, mutations of DNA mismatch repair (MMR) genes (or at similar loci) are the most likely candidates. If defective MMR precedes APC mutations, the APC mutations of colon tumours with defective MMR and hence replication errors (RER+) should differ from those of RER- tumours, in at least three specific ways: (1) a higher frequency of allele loss at APC in RER- tumours; (2) more frameshift than nonsense mutations in RER+ tumours; and (3) APC mutations in simple repeat sequences [(N)n, (N1N2)n, or (N1N2N3)n] in RER+ tumours. We found no evidence that sporadic RER+ and RER- colon cancers (including cell lines) differ in any of these three ways. Although it remains possible that MMR is abnormal in tumours from HNPCC families before APC mutations occur, it is likely that in sporadic colon tumours, APC mutations, rather than genomic instability, are the initiating events in tumorigenesis.

Original publication




Journal article


Hum Mutat

Publication Date





114 - 120


Alleles, Colorectal Neoplasms, DNA Mutational Analysis, DNA Repair, Genes, APC, Humans, Microsatellite Repeats, Mutation, Sequence Deletion, Tumor Cells, Cultured