We are in the midst of a renaissance in cancer genetics. Over the past several decades, candidate-based targeted sequencing efforts provided a steady stream of information on the genetic drivers for certain cancer types. However, with recent technological advances in DNA sequencing, this stream has become a torrent of unbiased genetic information revealing the frequencies and patterns of point mutations and copy number variations (CNVs) across the entire spectrum of cancers. One of the most important observations from this work is that genetic alterations in bona fide cancer drivers (those genes that, when mutated, promote tumorigenesis) show a remarkable spectrum of tissue specificity: Alterations in certain driver genes appear only in cancers derived from one or a few tissue types (1). Only a handful of cancer drivers [such as telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT), TP53, the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 2A (CDKN2A) locus, and MYC] show broad tissue spectrums. Here, we discuss the concept of tissue specificity of genetic alterations in cancer and provide general hypotheses to help explain this biological phenomenon.
Measuring gene expression of tumor clones at single-cell resolution links functional consequences to somatic alterations. Without scalable methods to simultaneously assay DNA and RNA from the same single cell, parallel single-cell DNA and RNA measurements from independent cell populations must be mapped for genome-transcriptome association. We present clonealign, which assigns gene expression states to cancer clones using single-cell RNA and DNA sequencing independently sampled from a heterogeneous population. We apply clonealign to triple-negative breast cancer patient-derived xenografts and high-grade serous ovarian cancer cell lines and discover clone-specific dysregulated biological pathways not visible using either sequencing method alone.
Multiple signatures of somatic mutations have been identified in cancer genomes. Exome sequences of 1,001 human cancer cell lines and 577 xenografts revealed most common mutational signatures, indicating past activity of the underlying processes, usually in appropriate cancer types. To investigate ongoing patterns of mutational-signature generation, cell lines were cultured for extended periods and subsequently DNA sequenced. Signatures of discontinued exposures, including tobacco smoke and ultraviolet light, were not generated in vitro. Signatures of normal and defective DNA repair and replication continued to be generated at roughly stable mutation rates. Signatures of APOBEC cytidine deaminase DNA-editing exhibited substantial fluctuations in mutation rate over time with episodic bursts of mutations. The initiating factors for the bursts are unclear, although retrotransposon mobilization may contribute. The examined cell lines constitute a resource of live experimental models of mutational processes, which potentially retain patterns of activity and regulation operative in primary human cancers.