Article Abstract

The genetic susceptibility in the development of malignant pleural mesothelioma

Authors: Ombretta Melaiu, Federica Gemignani, Stefano Landi


Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is a cancer of the pleural cavity whose main risk factor is exposure to asbestos. However, it has been shown that only a minority of exposed people develops MPM. In fact, the incidence among professionally exposed workers was shown to vary between 0.5% and 18.0%. Various hints suggested that other important cofactors could play a role, in particular the genetic susceptibility. Impressive is the case of Cappadocians families exposed to erionite and affected by an “epidemic” of MPM with about half of the inhabitants dying for the disease. However, no results for a “Cappadocia” gene of susceptibility to MPM have been obtained yet and more studies are needed. Among asbestos-exposed workers, several studies reported familial cases of MPM, suggesting that heredity could be important in the tumor development. However, large studies on familial clusters showed only weak increased risks that could be attributable also to indirect exposures in a contaminated household. Moreover, the risk of developing MPM is increased of a limited extent among people exposed to asbestos with a positive history of familial cancers. A particular is represented by carriers of germline mutations within BAP1 gene. In families and in animal models, mutations within BAP1 are strongly predisposing to develop MPM. However, also other types of cancer (such as uveal melanoma) are present, thus BAP1 mutations are considered as responsible for a hereditary form of a multi-cancer syndrome. In any case, among sporadic MPM, the prevalence of germline BAP1 mutations is negligible. Finally, genetic studies highlighted the presence of low-risk susceptibility alleles, such as those within XRCC3, NAT2 or GSTM1. Two different genome-wide association studies could not find positive associations reaching the genome-wide statistical significance threshold, however, both were concordant in showing a weak signal within the SDK1 gene region. Overall, it could be concluded that, as for other types of sporadic cancers, the susceptibility to develop MPM following asbestos exposure is modulated moderately by the individual genetic background. Further studies on larger series could help in a better characterization of more genes predisposing to MPM, being this tumor a rare disease.