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A Virus Causes Cancer by Inducing Massive Chromosomal Instability through Cell Fusion

Chromosomal instability (CIN) underlies malignant properties of many solid cancers and their ability to escape , and it might itself cause cancer 1 and 2. CIN is sustained by deficiencies in proteins, such as the tumor suppressor p53 3, 4 and 5, that police genome integrity, but the primary cause of CIN in sporadic cancers remains uncertain 6 and 7. The primary suspects are mutations that deregulate telomere maintenance, or mitosis, yet such mutations have not been identified in the majority of sporadic cancers [6]. Alternatively, CIN could be caused by a transient event that destabilizes the genome without permanently affecting mechanisms of mitosis or proliferation 5 and 8. Here, we show that an otherwise harmless virus rapidly causes massive chromosomal instability by fusing cells whose cell cycle is deregulated by oncogenes. This synergy between fusion and oncogenes “randomizes” normal diploid human fibroblasts so extensively that each analyzed cell has a unique karyotype, and some produce aggressive, highly aneuploid, heterogeneous, and transplantable epithelial cancers in mice. Because many viruses are fusogenic, this study suggests that viruses, including those that have not been linked to carcinogenesis, can cause chromosomal instability and, consequently, cancer by fusing cells.