The “virgin birth”, polyploidy, and the origin of cancer

Jekaterina Erenpreisa1, Kristine Salmina1, Anda Huna1, Thomas R. Jackson2, Alejandro Vazquez-Martin1 and Mark S. Cragg3

1 Latvian Biomedical Research & Study Centre, Riga

2 Faculty Institute for Cancer Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, UK

3 Southampton University School of Medicine, Southampton, UK


Jekaterina Erenpreisa, email:


Mark S. Cragg, email:

Keywords: cancer, embryonality, polyploidy, accelerated senescence, parthenogenesis

Received: November 16, 2014 Accepted: December 16, 2014 Published: December 17, 2014


Recently, it has become clear that the complexity of cancer biology cannot fully be explained by somatic mutation and clonal selection. Meanwhile, data have accumulated on how cancer stem cells or stemloids bestow immortality on tumour cells and how reversible polyploidy is involved. Most recently, single polyploid tumour cells were shown capable of forming spheroids, releasing EMT-like descendents and inducing tumours in vivo. These data refocus attention on the centuries-old embryological theory of cancer. This review attempts to reconcile seemingly conflicting data by viewing cancer as a pre-programmed phylogenetic life-cycle-like process. This cycle is apparently initiated by a meiosis-like process and driven as an alternative to accelerated senescence at the DNA damage checkpoint, followed by an asexual syngamy event and endopolyploid-type embryonal cleavage to provide germ-cell-like (EMT) cells. This cycle is augmented by genotoxic treatments, explaining why chemotherapy is rarely curative and drives resistance. The logical outcome of this viewpoint is that alternative treatments may be more efficacious - either those that suppress the endopolyploidy-associated ‘life cycle’ or, those that cause reversion of embryonal malignant cells into benign counterparts. Targets for these opposing strategies are components of the same molecular pathways and interact with regulators of accelerated senescence.

PII: 108