Article Text


S132 Lineage tracing in humans reveals stochastic homeostasis of airway epithelium resulting from neutral competition of basal cell progenitors
  1. Vitor Teixeira1,
  2. Parthiban Nadarajan 1,
  3. Trevor A Graham2,
  4. Christodoulos P Pipinikas1,
  5. James M Brown 1,
  6. Mary Falzon3,
  7. Emma Nye4,
  8. Richard Poulsom 5,
  9. David Lawrence 6,
  10. Nicholas A Wright 7,
  11. Stuart McDonald 7,
  12. Adam Giangreco1,
  13. Benjamin D Simons 8,
  14. Sam Janes1
  1. 1Lungs for Living Research Centre, UCL Respiratory, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2Centre for Evolution and Cancer, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, San Francisco, USA
  3. 3Department of Histopathology, University College Hospital London, London, UK
  4. 4Experimental Histopathology Laboratory, Cancer Research UK London Research Institute, London, UK
  5. 5Centre for Digestive Diseases, Blizard Institute, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK
  6. 6The Heart Hospital, London, UK
  7. 7Centre for Tumour Biology, Barts Cancer Institute, John Vane Science Centre, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, UK
  8. 8Cavendish Laboratory, Department of Physics, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK


In recent years, the development of lineage tracing approaches has provided quantitative new insights into tissue homeostasis in mice. However, the relevance of these discoveries to human epithelial homeostasis and alterations in disease is not known. We demonstrate that the statistical analysis of pathologically neutral somatic mitochondrial mutations that are accumulated over time can provide access to clonal fate behaviour at single cell resolution in human, providing a direct means to explore mechanisms of cell fate and tissue maintenance. Employing this approach, we define the progenitor cell population and the cellular hierarchy of the major human airways. By applying a novel quantitative approach to lineage tracing data, we conclude that, in normal homeostasis, the lining of human lung epithelium is maintained by an equipotent progenitor cell population of basal cells, in which the chance loss of cells due to commitment is perfectly compensated by the duplication of neighbouring cells, leading to neutral drift dynamics of the clone population. Further, we show that in airways of smokers, this process is accelerated leading to intensified clonal consolidation and a fertile background for tumorigenesis. This study provides the benchmark for the use of somatic mutations to quantitatively explore patterns of homeostatic growth in human tissues, and a platform to explore factors leading to homeostatic dysregulation and disease.

Statistics from

Request permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.