Biallelic mutations in cancer genomes reveal local mutational determinants

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The infinite sites model of molecular evolution posits that every position in the genome is mutated at most once1. By restricting the number of possible mutation histories, haplotypes and alleles, it forms a cornerstone of tumor phylogenetic analysis2 and is often implied when calling, phasing and interpreting variants3,4 or studying the mutational landscape as a whole5. Here we identify 18,295 biallelic mutations, where the same base is mutated independently on both parental copies, in 559 (21%) bulk sequencing samples from the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes study. Biallelic mutations reveal ultraviolet light damage hotspots at E26 transformation-specific (ETS) and nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT) binding sites, and hypermutable motifs in POLE-mutant and other cancers. We formulate recommendations for variant calling and provide frameworks to model and detect biallelic mutations. These results highlight the need for accurate models of mutation rates and tumor evolution, as well as their inference from sequencing data.

Journal details

Journal Nature Genetics
Volume 54
Issue number 2
Pages 128-133
Available online
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