Tumorigenesis is a multistep genetic process requiring several somatic mutations for neoplastic transformation. These mutations appear to be sequential, random, and independent events. However, we find linked, nonrandom ras mutations occurring during 4-nitroquinoline-1-oxide-induced tumorigenesis months after exposure to the carcinogen had ceased. The carcinogen had been topically applied to the oral cavity of CBA mice for 4 to 16 weeks. Dysplasia developed after 24 weeks, and carcinoma in situ and squamous cell carcinoma developed after 28 weeks. H-ras mutations were detected in 13 of 25 tissue specimens (10 of 14 invasive carcinomas and 2 of 4 carcinoma in situ, 1 of 5 dysplastic tissue, and 0 of 2 normal tissues). Approximately one-half of the tumors had G to A point mutations at codon 12 of the cellular H-ras proto-oncogene on mouse chromosome 7. None had codon 11, 13, or 61 mutations. Loss of heterozygosity occurred in 5 of 14 invasive cancers. Larger invasive squamous cell carcinomas consistently lost the wild-type allele, whereas preneoplastic lesions and small tumors were heterozygous for ras. This suggests a causal relationship between carcinogen treatment, H-ras activation, and initiation of tumorigenesis. The wild-type allele in mouse chromosome 7 is lost with the progression of tumorigenesis long after exposure to the carcinogen. Thus, loss of heterozygosity of the ras gene appears to occur without multiple carcinogen-induced mutations, i.e., as a result of a cascade of events induced by an earlier ras mutation.
Supported in part by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Alliant Community Trust Foundation, the James Graham Brown Cancer Center Foundation, and the Norwich-Eaton Resident Award.