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The seminal 'two-hit hypothesis' implicitly assumes that bi-allelic tumour suppressor gene (TSG) mutations cause loss of protein function. All subsequent events in that tumour therefore take place on an essentially null background for that TSG protein. We have shown that the two-hit model requires modification for the APC TSG, because mutant APC proteins probably retain some function and the two hits are co-selected to produce an optimal level of Wnt activation. We wondered whether the optimal Wnt level might change during tumour progression, leading to selection for more than two hits at the APC locus. Comprehensive screening of a panel of colorectal cancer (CRC) cell lines and primary CRCs showed that some had indeed acquired third hits at APC. These third hits were mostly copy number gains or deletions, but could be protein-truncating mutations. Third hits were significantly less common when the second hit at APC had arisen by copy-neutral loss of heterozygosity. Both polyploid and near-diploid CRCs had third hits, and the third hits did not simply arise as a result of acquiring a polyploid karyotype. The third hits affected mRNA and protein levels, with potential functional consequences for Wnt signalling and tumour growth. Although some third hits were probably secondary to genomic instability, others did appear specifically to target APC. Whilst it is generally believed that tumours develop and progress through stepwise accumulation of mutations in different functional pathways, it also seems that repeated targeting of the same pathway and/or gene is selected in some cancers.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





146 - 155


Adenoma, Adenomatous Polyposis Coli Protein, Alleles, Carcinoma, Cell Line, Tumor, Cell Proliferation, Colorectal Neoplasms, Diploidy, Gene Dosage, Genomics, Humans, Loss of Heterozygosity, Models, Genetic, Mutation, Polyploidy, Wnt Proteins