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Jonathan W Nyce

The activation of TP53 is well known to exert tumor suppressive effects. We have detected a primate-specific adrenal androgen-mediated tumor suppression system in which circulating DHEAS is converted to DHEA specifically in cells in which TP53 has been inactivated. DHEA is an uncompetitive inhibitor of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), an enzyme indispensable for maintaining reactive oxygen species within limits survivable by the cell. Uncompetitive inhibition is otherwise unknown in natural systems because it becomes irreversible in the presence of high concentrations of substrate and inhibitor. In addition to primate-specific circulating DHEAS, a unique, primate-specific sequence motif that disables an activating regulatory site in the glucose-6-phosphatase (G6PC) promoter was also required to enable function of this previously unrecognized tumor suppression system. In human somatic cells, loss of TP53 thus triggers activation of DHEAS transport proteins and steroid sulfatase, which converts circulating DHEAS into intracellular DHEA, and hexokinase which increases glucose-6-phosphate substrate concentration. The triggering of these enzymes in the TP53-affected cell combines with the primate-specific G6PC promoter sequence motif that enables G6P substrate accumulation, driving uncompetitive inhibition of G6PD to irreversibility and ROS-mediated cell death. By this catastrophic ‘kill switch’ mechanism, TP53 mutations are effectively prevented from initiating tumorigenesis in the somatic cells of humans, the primate with the highest peak levels of circulating DHEAS. TP53 mutations in human tumors therefore represent fossils of kill switch failure resulting from an age-related decline in circulating DHEAS, a potentially reversible artifact of hominid evolution.

Open access

Jonathan W Nyce

We recently reported our detection of an anthropoid primate-specific, ‘kill switch’ tumor suppression system that reached its greatest expression in humans, but that is fully functional only during the first twenty-five years of life, corresponding to the primitive human lifespan that has characterized the majority of our species' existence. This tumor suppression system is based upon the kill switch being triggered in cells in which p53 has been inactivated; such kill switch consisting of a rapid, catastrophic increase in ROS caused by the induction of irreversible uncompetitive inhibition of glucose-6- phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), which requires high concentrations of both inhibitor (DHEA) and G6P substrate. While high concentrations of intracellular DHEA are readily available in primates from the importation and subsequent de-sulfation of circulating DHEAS into p53-affected cells, both an anthropoid primate-specific sequence motif (GAAT) in the glucose-6-phosphatase (G6PC) promoter, and primate-specific inactivation of de novo synthesis of vitamin C by deletion of gulonolactone oxidase (GLO) were required to enable accumulation of G6P to levels sufficient to enable irreversible uncompetitive inhibition of G6PD. Malignant transformation acts as a counterforce opposing vertebrate speciation, particularly increases in body size and lifespan that enable optimized exploitation of particular niches. Unique mechanisms of tumor suppression that evolved to enable niche exploitation distinguish vertebrate species, and prevent one vertebrate species from serving as a valid model system for another. This here-to-fore unrecognized element of speciation undermines decades of cancer research data, using murine species, which presumed universal mechanisms of tumor suppression, independent of species. Despite this setback, the potential for pharmacological reconstitution of the kill switch tumor suppression system that distinguishes our species suggests that ‘normalization’ of human cancer risk, from its current 40% to the 4% of virtually all other large, long-lived species, represents a realistic near-term goal.