Two of a kind: transmissible Schwann cell cancers in the endangered Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii)

Amanda L. Patchett, Tim H. H. Coorens, Jocelyn Darby, Richard Wilson, Matthew J. McKay, Karthik S. Kamath, Alan Rubin, Matthew Wakefield, Lachlan Mcintosh, Stefano Mangiola, Ruth J. Pye, Andrew S. Flies, Lynn M. Corcoran, A. Bruce Lyons, Gregory M. Woods, Elizabeth P. Murchison, Anthony T. Papenfuss, Cesar Tovar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) comprises two genetically distinct transmissible cancers (DFT1 and DFT2) endangering the survival of the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) in the wild. DFT1 first arose from a cell of the Schwann cell lineage; however, the tissue-of-origin of the recently discovered DFT2 cancer is unknown. In this study, we compared the transcriptome and proteome of DFT2 tumours to DFT1 and normal Tasmanian devil tissues to determine the tissue-of-origin of the DFT2 cancer. Our findings demonstrate that DFT2 expresses a range of Schwann cell markers and exhibits expression patterns consistent with a similar origin to the DFT1 cancer. Furthermore, DFT2 cells express genes associated with the repair response to peripheral nerve damage. These findings suggest that devils may be predisposed to transmissible cancers of Schwann cell origin. The combined effect of factors such as frequent nerve damage from biting, Schwann cell plasticity and low genetic diversity may allow these cancers to develop on rare occasions. The emergence of two independent transmissible cancers from the same tissue in the Tasmanian devil presents an unprecedented opportunity to gain insight into cancer development, evolution and immune evasion in mammalian species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1847-1858
Number of pages12
JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Issue number9
Early online date2 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


  • Tasmanian devil
  • Devil facial tumour disease
  • Schwann cell
  • Transmissible cancer
  • Contagious cancer
  • DFT2


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