How does cellular senescence prevent cancer?

DNA Cell Biol 2006;25(2):69-78.

How does cellular senescence prevent cancer?

Lynch MD.



It is widely believed that cellular senescence is a tumor suppressor mechanism; however, it has not been understood why it is advantageous for organisms to retain mutant cells is a postmitotic state rather than simply eliminating them by apoptosis. It has recently been proposed that the primary role of cellular senescence is in mitotic compartments of fixed size in which spatial considerations dictate that a deleted cell is replaced by a neighboring cell. In these situations, rather than eliminating the neoplastic clone, deletion of mutant cells can paradoxically lead to their increased turnover. If mutant cells become senescent, then the compartment is instead progressively filled by senescent cells until the mutant clone is eliminated. Since most of the genetic alterations responsible for malignancy arise in stem cells, this mechanism may have particular relevance to the stem cell niche. In this article the implications of this hypothesis are examined in detail and related to experimental results. It is further proposed here that blockage of stem cell niches by senescent stem cells may account for some of the functional alterations observed in stem cell compartments at old age. Clearly, the existence of senescent stem cells is central to the proposed hypothesis, and although there is preliminary evidence for this assertion it has yet to be proven in vivo. An experimental strategy involving double labeling of stem cells with a nucleotide label is described that can address this question.