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Copy-number variation of cancer-gene orthologs is sufficient to induce cancer-like symptoms in Saccharomyces cerevisiae

Michaela de Clare and Stephen G Oliver*

Author affiliations

Cambridge Systems Biology Centre and Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, Sanger Building, 80 Tennis Court Road, Cambridge CB2 1GA, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Biology 2013, 11:24  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-11-24

Published: 25 March 2013



Copy-number variation (CNV), rather than complete loss of gene function, is increasingly implicated in human disease. Moreover, gene dosage is recognised as important in tumourigenesis, and there is an increasing realisation that CNVs may not be just symptomatic of the cancerous state but may, in fact, be causative. However, the identification of CNV-related phenotypes for mammalian genes is a slow process, due to the technical difficulty of constructing deletion mutants. Using the genome-wide deletion library for the model eukaryote, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, we have identified genes (termed haploproficient, HP) which, when one copy is deleted from a diploid cell, result in an increased rate of proliferation. Since haploproficiency under nutrient-sufficient conditions is a novel phenotype, we sought here to characterise a subset of the yeast haploproficient genes which seem particularly relevant to human cancers.


We show that, for a subset of HP genes, heterozygous deletion is sufficient to cause aberrant cell cycling and altered rates of apoptosis, phenotypes associated with cancer in mammalian cells. A majority of these yeast genes are the orthologs of mammalian cancer genes, and hence our studies suggest that CNV of these oncogenic orthologs may be sufficient to lead to tumourigenesis in human cells. Moreover, where not already implicated, this cluster of cancer-like phenotypes in this model eukaryote may be predictive of the involvement in cancer of the mammalian orthologs of these yeast HP genes. Using the yeast set as a model, we show that the response to a range of anti-cancer drugs is strongly dependent on gene dosage, such that intermediate concentrations of the drugs can actually increase a mutant’s growth rate.


The exploitation of data on the phenotypic impact of heterozygosis in Saccharomyces cerevisiae has permitted the prediction of CNVs affecting tumourigenesis in humans. Our yeast data also suggest that the identification of CNVs in tumour cells may assist both the selection of anti-cancer drugs and the dosages at which they should be administered if they are to be a beneficial, rather than a deleterious, therapy.

Copy-number variation; Model organism; Yeast; Cancer; Haploinsufficiency