Symmetry, Identifiability, and Prediction Uncertainties in Multistage Clonal Expansion (MSCE) Models of Carcinogenesis
Many models of exposure-related carcinogenesis, including traditional linearized multistage models and more recent two-stage clonal expansion (TSCE) models, belong to a family of models in which cells progress between successive stages—possibly undergoing proliferation at some stages—at rates that may depend (usually linearly) on biologically effective doses. Biologically effective doses, in turn, may depend nonlinearly on administered doses, due to PBPK nonlinearities. This article provides an exact mathematical analysis of the expected number of cells in the last (“malignant”) stage of such a “multistage clonal expansion” (MSCE) model as a function of dose rate and age. The solution displays symmetries such that several distinct sets of parameter values provide identical fits to all epidemiological data, make identical predictions about the effects on risk of changes in exposure levels or timing, and yet make significantly different predictions about the effects on risk of changes in the composition of exposure that affect the pharmacodynamic dose-response relation. Several different predictions for the effects of such an intervention (such as reducing carcinogenic constituents of an exposure) that acts on only one or a few stages of the carcinogenic process may be equally consistent with all preintervention epidemiological data. This is an example of nonunique identifiability of model parameters and predictions from data. The new results on nonunique model identifiability presented here show that the effects of an intervention on changing age-specific cancer risks in an MSCE model can be either large or small, but that which is the case cannot be predicted from preintervention epidemiological data and knowledge of biological effects of the intervention alone. Rather, biological data that identify which rate parameters hold for which specific stages are required to obtain unambiguous predictions. From epidemiological data alone, only a set of equally likely alternative predictions can be made for the effects on risk of such interventions.