Cancer initiation, progression, and the emergence of drug resistance are driven by specific genetic and/or epigenetic alterations such as point mutations, structural alterations, DNA methylation and histone modification changes. These alterations may confer advantageous, deleterious or neutral effects to mutated cells. Previous studies showed that cells harboring two particular alterations may arise in a fixed-size population even in the absence of an intermediate state in which cells harboring only the first alteration take over the population; this phenomenon is called stochastic tunneling. Here, we investigated a stochastic Moran model in which two alterations emerge in a cell population of fixed size. We developed a novel approach to comprehensively describe the evolutionary dynamics of stochastic tunneling of two mutations. We considered the scenarios of large mutation rates and various fitness values and validated the accuracy of the mathematical predictions with exact stochastic computer simulations. Our theory is applicable to situations in which two alterations are accumulated in a fixed-size population of binary dividing cells.

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Franziska Michor uses the tools of theoretical evolutionary biology, applied mathematics, statistics, and computational biology to address important questions in cancer research.

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