Abstract

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second most common tumour in the world (Bray, 2018). It has been proposed that morbidity and mortality could be mitigated by screening methods that identify key genetic mutations in the DNA of a patient’s biosample (Traverso, 2002). However, for this to work, a theoretical understanding of the most likely mutations that initiate malignant transformation, and how they affect subsequent microevolution, is needed. Specifically, we hypothesise that there is a CRC-proliferative mutation that is more likely to be initially fixated in the crypt. To investigate this, we developed an agent-based model of cells in the colon crypt that shows emergent biological homeostasis at the tissue level from the cellular and molecular interactions. We equipped each of the cells with a molecular gene network which, in their wildtype state, regulates homeostasis in the crypt and recapitulates known behaviour. We identified and modelled key genes implicated in CRC which, when mutated, alter the rate of death and division of cells. We used this model to study the biological first principles of the fixation of mutations, offering key spatial and temporal understanding of this process. We discuss the impact and clinical relevance of proliferative genetic mutations in isolation, pointing to the KRAS gene as a likely mutation to be initially fixed in the crypt.

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