Patterns of tumor progression predict small and tissue-specific tumor-originating niches

Thomas Buder*, Andreas Deutsch, Barbara Klink, Anja Voss-Böhme

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


The development of cancer is a multistep process in which cells increase in malignancy through progressive alterations. Such altered cells compete with wild-type cells and have to establish within a tissue in order to induce tumor formation. The range of this competition and the tumor-originating cell type which acquires the first alteration is unknown for most human tissues, mainly because the involved processes are hardly observable, aggravating an understanding of early tumor development. On the tissue scale, one observes different progression types, namely with and without detectable benign precursor stages. Human epidemiological data on the ratios of the two progression types exhibit large differences between cancers. The idea of this study is to utilize data of the ratios of progression types in human cancers to estimate the homeostatic range of competition in human tissues. This homeostatic competition range can be interpreted as necessary numbers of altered cells to induce tumor formation on the tissue scale. For this purpose, we develop a cell-based stochastic model which is calibrated with newly-interpreted human epidemiological data. We find that the number of tumor cells which inevitably leads to later tumor formation is surprisingly small compared to the overall tumor and largely depends on the human tissue type. This result points toward the existence of a tissue-specific tumor-originating niche in which the fate of tumor development is decided early and long before a tumor becomes detectable. Moreover, our results suggest that the fixation of tumor cells in the tumor-originating niche triggers new processes which accelerate tumor growth after normal tissue homeostasis is voided. Our estimate for the human colon agrees well with the size of the stem cell niche in colonic crypts. For other tissues, our results might aid to identify the tumor-originating cell type. For instance, data on primary and secondary glioblastoma suggest that the tumors originate from a cell type competing in a range of 300 - 1,900 cells.

Original languageEnglish
Article number668
JournalFrontiers in Oncology
Issue numberJAN
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Cancer development
  • Cell-based stochastic model
  • Spatial Moran model
  • Tumor formation and progression
  • Tumor origin


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