Understanding tumor heterogeneity as functional compartments - superorganisms revisited

Thomas G.P. Grunewald, Saskia M. Herbst, Jürgen Heinze, Stefan Burdach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Compelling evidence broadens our understanding of tumors as highly heterogeneous populations derived from one common progenitor. In this review we portray various stages of tumorigenesis, tumor progression, self-seeding and metastasis in analogy to the superorganisms of insect societies to exemplify the highly complex architecture of a neoplasm as a system of functional "castes." Accordingly, we propose a model in which clonal expansion and cumulative acquisition of genetic alterations produce tumor compartments each equipped with distinct traits and thus distinct functions that cooperate to establish clinically apparent tumors. This functional compartment model also suggests mechanisms for the selfconstruction of tumor stem cell niches. Thus, thinking of a tumor as a superorganism will provide systemic insight into its functional compartmentalization and may even have clinical implications

Original languageEnglish
Article number79
JournalJournal of Translational Medicine
StatePublished - 27 May 2011
Externally publishedYes


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