Fractal dimension of chromatin: potential molecular diagnostic applications for cancer prognosis

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Fractal characteristics of chromatin, revealed by light or electron microscopy, have been reported during the last 20 years. Fractal features can easily be estimated in digitalized microscopic images and are helpful for diagnosis and prognosis of neoplasias. During carcinogenesis and tumor progression, an increase of the fractal dimension (FD) of stained nuclei has been shown in intraepithelial lesions of the uterine cervix and the anus, oral squamous cell carcinomas or adenocarcinomas of the pancreas. Furthermore, an increased FD of chromatin is an unfavorable prognostic factor in squamous cell carcinomas of the oral cavity and the larynx, melanomas and multiple myelomas. High goodness-of-fit of the regression line of the FD is a favorable prognostic factor in acute leukemias and multiple myelomas. The nucleus has fractal and power-law organization in several different levels, which might in part be interrelated. Some possible relations between modifications of the chromatin organization during carcinogenesis and tumor progression and an increase of the FD of stained chromatin are suggested. Furthermore, increased complexity of the chromatin structure, loss of heterochromatin and a less-perfect self-organization of the nucleus in aggressive neoplasias are discussed.

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