Distilling biologically meaningful information from cancer genome sequencing data requires comprehensive identification of somatic alterations using rigorous computational methods. As the amount and complexity of sequencing data have increased, so has the number of tools for analysing them. Here, we describe the main steps involved in the bioinformatic analysis of cancer genomes, review key algorithmic developments and highlight popular tools and emerging technologies. These tools include those that identify point mutations, copy number alterations, structural variations and mutational signatures in cancer genomes. We also discuss issues in experimental design, the strengths and limitations of sequencing modalities and methodological challenges for the future.
Transposable elements (TEs) help shape the structure and function of the human genome. When inserted into some locations, TEs may disrupt gene regulation and cause diseases. Here, we present xTea (x-Transposable element analyzer), a tool for identifying TE insertions in whole-genome sequencing data. Whereas existing methods are mostly designed for short-read data, xTea can be applied to both short-read and long-read data. Our analysis shows that xTea outperforms other short read-based methods for both germline and somatic TE insertion discovery. With long-read data, we created a catalogue of polymorphic insertions with full assembly and annotation of insertional sequences for various types of retroelements, including pseudogenes and endogenous retroviruses. Notably, we find that individual genomes have an average of nine groups of full-length L1s in centromeres, suggesting that centromeres and other highly repetitive regions such as telomeres are a significant yet unexplored source of active L1s. xTea is available at https://github.com/parklab/xTea .
Homologous recombination (HR)-deficient cancers are sensitive to poly-ADP ribose polymerase inhibitors (PARPi), which have shown clinical efficacy in the treatment of high-grade serous cancers (HGSC). However, the majority of patients will relapse, and acquired PARPi resistance is emerging as a pressing clinical problem. Here we generated seven single-cell clones with acquired PARPi resistance derived from a PARPi-sensitive TP53 -/- and BRCA1 -/- epithelial cell line generated using CRISPR/Cas9. These clones showed diverse resistance mechanisms, and some clones presented with multiple mechanisms of resistance at the same time. Genomic analysis of the clones revealed unique transcriptional and mutational profiles and increased genomic instability in comparison with a PARPi-sensitive cell line. Clonal evolutionary analyses suggested that acquired PARPi resistance arose via clonal selection from an intrinsically unstable and heterogenous cell population in the sensitive cell line, which contained preexisting drug-tolerant cells. Similarly, clonal and spatial heterogeneity in tumor biopsies from a clinical patient with BRCA1-mutant HGSC with acquired PARPi resistance was observed. In an imaging-based drug screening, the clones showed heterogenous responses to targeted therapeutic agents, indicating that not all PARPi-resistant clones can be targeted with just one therapy. Furthermore, PARPi-resistant clones showed mechanism-dependent vulnerabilities to the selected agents, demonstrating that a deeper understanding on the mechanisms of resistance could lead to improved targeting and biomarkers for HGSC with acquired PARPi resistance. SIGNIFICANCE: This study shows that BRCA1-deficient cells can give rise to multiple genomically and functionally heterogenous PARPi-resistant clones, which are associated with various vulnerabilities that can be targeted in a mechanism-specific manner.
Hi-C is a common technique for assessing 3D chromatin conformation. Recent studies have shown that long-range interaction information in Hi-C data can be used to generate chromosome-length genome assemblies and identify large-scale structural variations. Here, we demonstrate the use of Hi-C data in detecting mobile transposable element (TE) insertions genome-wide. Our pipeline Hi-C-based TE analyzer (HiTea) capitalizes on clipped Hi-C reads and is aided by a high proportion of discordant read pairs in Hi-C data to detect insertions of three major families of active human TEs. Despite the uneven genome coverage in Hi-C data, HiTea is competitive with the existing callers based on whole-genome sequencing (WGS) data and can supplement the WGS-based characterization of the TE-insertion landscape. We employ the pipeline to identify TE-insertions from human cell-line Hi-C samples. AVAILABILITY AND IMPLEMENTATION: HiTea is available at https://github.com/parklab/HiTea and as a Docker image. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
Chromothripsis is a mutational phenomenon characterized by massive, clustered genomic rearrangements that occurs in cancer and other diseases. Recent studies in selected cancer types have suggested that chromothripsis may be more common than initially inferred from low-resolution copy-number data. Here, as part of the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) Consortium of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) and The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), we analyze patterns of chromothripsis across 2,658 tumors from 38 cancer types using whole-genome sequencing data. We find that chromothripsis events are pervasive across cancers, with a frequency of more than 50% in several cancer types. Whereas canonical chromothripsis profiles display oscillations between two copy-number states, a considerable fraction of events involve multiple chromosomes and additional structural alterations. In addition to non-homologous end joining, we detect signatures of replication-associated processes and templated insertions. Chromothripsis contributes to oncogene amplification and to inactivation of genes such as mismatch-repair-related genes. These findings show that chromothripsis is a major process that drives genome evolution in human cancer.
PURPOSE: The tumor microenvironment is complex, comprising heterogeneous cellular populations. As molecular profiles are frequently generated using bulk tissue sections, they represent an admixture of multiple cell types (including immune, stromal, and cancer cells) interacting with each other. Therefore, these molecular profiles are confounded by signals emanating from many cell types. Accurate assessment of residual cancer cell fraction is crucial for parameterization and interpretation of genomic analyses, as well as for accurately interpreting the clinical properties of the tumor. MATERIALS AND METHODS: To benchmark cancer cell fraction estimation methods, 10 estimators were applied to a clinical cohort of 333 patients with prostate cancer. These methods include gold-standard multiobserver pathology estimates, as well as estimates inferred from genome, epigenome, and transcriptome data. In addition, two methods based on genomic and transcriptomic profiles were used to quantify tumor purity in 4,497 tumors across 12 cancer types. Bulk mRNA and microRNA profiles were subject to in silico deconvolution to estimate cancer cell-specific mRNA and microRNA profiles. RESULTS: We present a systematic comparison of 10 tumor purity estimation methods on a cohort of 333 prostate tumors. We quantify variation among purity estimation methods and demonstrate how this influences interpretation of clinico-genomic analyses. Our data show poor concordance between pathologic and molecular purity estimates, necessitating caution when interpreting molecular results. Limited concordance between DNA- and mRNA-derived purity estimates remained a general pan-cancer phenomenon when tested in an additional 4,497 tumors spanning 12 cancer types. CONCLUSION: The choice of tumor purity estimation method may have a profound impact on the interpretation of genomic assays. Taken together, these data highlight the need for improved assessment of tumor purity and quantitation of its influences on the molecular hallmarks of cancers.
BACKGROUND: Gene fusions have been studied extensively, as frequent drivers of tumorigenesis as well as potential therapeutic targets. In many well-known cases, breakpoints occur at two intragenic positions, leading to in-frame gene-gene fusions that generate chimeric mRNAs. However, fusions often occur with intergenic breakpoints, and the role of such fusions has not been carefully examined. RESULTS: We analyze whole-genome sequencing data from 268 patients to catalog gene-intergenic and intergenic-intergenic fusions and characterize their impact. First, we discover that, in contrast to the common assumption, chimeric oncogenic transcripts-such as those involving ETV4, ERG, RSPO3, and PIK3CA-can be generated by gene-intergenic fusions through splicing of the intervening region. Second, we find that over-expression of an upstream or downstream gene by a fusion-mediated repositioning of a regulatory sequence is much more common than previously suspected, with enhancers sometimes located megabases away. We detect a number of recurrent fusions, such as those involving ANO3, RGS9, FUT5, CHI3L1, OR1D4, and LIPG in breast; IGF2 in colon; ETV1 in prostate; and IGF2BP3 and SIX2 in thyroid cancers. CONCLUSION: Our findings elucidate the potential oncogenic function of intergenic fusions and highlight the wide-ranging consequences of structural rearrangements in cancer genomes.
The Genomics of Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor (GeM) Consortium is an international collaboration focusing on multi-omic analysis of malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors (MPNSTs), the most aggressive tumor associated with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1). Here we present a summary of current knowledge gaps, a description of our consortium and the cohort we have assembled, and an overview of our plans for multi-omic analysis of these tumors. We propose that our analysis will lead to a better understanding of the order and timing of genetic events related to MPNST initiation and progression. Our ten institutions have assembled 96 fresh frozen NF1-related (63%) and sporadic MPNST specimens from 86 subjects with corresponding clinical and pathological data. Clinical data have been collected as part of the International MPNST Registry. We will characterize these tumors with bulk whole genome sequencing, RNAseq, and DNA methylation profiling. In addition, we will perform multiregional analysis and temporal sampling, with the same methodologies, on a subset of nine subjects with NF1-related MPNSTs to assess tumor heterogeneity and cancer evolution. Subsequent multi-omic analyses of additional archival specimens will include deep exome sequencing (500×) and high density copy number arrays for both validation of results based on fresh frozen tumors, and to assess further tumor heterogeneity and evolution. Digital pathology images are being collected in a cloud-based platform for consensus review. The result of these efforts will be the largest MPNST multi-omic dataset with correlated clinical and pathological information ever assembled.
Touat M, Li YY, Boynton AN, Spurr LF, Iorgulescu BJ, Bohrson CL, Cortes-Ciriano I, Birzu C, Geduldig JE, Pelton K, Lim-Fat MJ, Pal S, Ferrer-Luna R, Ramkissoon SH, Dubois F, Bellamy C, Currimjee N, Bonardi J, Qian K, Ho P, Malinowski S, Taquet L, Jones RE, Shetty A, Chow K-H, Sharaf R, Pavlick D, Albacker LA, Younan N, Baldini C, Verreault M, Giry M, Guillerm E, Ammari S, Beuvon F, Mokhtari K, Alentorn A, Dehais C, Houillier C, Laigle-Donadey F, Psimaras D, Lee EQ, Nayak L, McFaline-Figueroa RJ, Carpentier A, Cornu P, Capelle L, Mathon B, Barnholtz-Sloan JS, Chakravarti A, Bi WL, Chiocca AE, Fehnel KP, Alexandrescu S, Chi SN, Haas-Kogan D, Batchelor TT, Frampton GM, Alexander BM, Huang RY, Ligon AH, Coulet F, Delattre J-Y, Hoang-Xuan K, Meredith DM, Santagata S, Duval A, Sanson M, Cherniack AD, Wen PY, Reardon DA, Marabelle A, Park PJ, Idbaih A, Beroukhim R, Bandopadhayay P, Bielle F, Ligon KL. Mechanisms and therapeutic implications of hypermutation in gliomas. Nature 2020;580(7804):517-523.Abstract
A high tumour mutational burden (hypermutation) is observed in some gliomas; however, the mechanisms by which hypermutation develops and whether it predicts the response to immunotherapy are poorly understood. Here we comprehensively analyse the molecular determinants of mutational burden and signatures in 10,294 gliomas. We delineate two main pathways to hypermutation: a de novo pathway associated with constitutional defects in DNA polymerase and mismatch repair (MMR) genes, and a more common post-treatment pathway, associated with acquired resistance driven by MMR defects in chemotherapy-sensitive gliomas that recur after treatment with the chemotherapy drug temozolomide. Experimentally, the mutational signature of post-treatment hypermutated gliomas was recapitulated by temozolomide-induced damage in cells with MMR deficiency. MMR-deficient gliomas were characterized by a lack of prominent T cell infiltrates, extensive intratumoral heterogeneity, poor patient survival and a low rate of response to PD-1 blockade. Moreover, although bulk analyses did not detect microsatellite instability in MMR-deficient gliomas, single-cell whole-genome sequencing analysis of post-treatment hypermutated glioma cells identified microsatellite mutations. These results show that chemotherapy can drive the acquisition of hypermutated populations without promoting a response to PD-1 blockade and supports the diagnostic use of mutational burden and signatures in cancer.
Goldman MJ*, Zhang J*, Fonseca NA*, Cortés-Ciriano I*, Xiang Q, Craft B, Piñeiro-Yáñez E, O'Connor BD, Bazant W, Barrera E, Muñoz-Pomer A, Petryszak R, Füllgrabe A, Al-Shahrour F, Keays M, Haussler D, Weinstein JN, Huber W, Valencia A, Park PJ, Papatheodorou I, Zhu J, Ferretti V, Vazquez M. A user guide for the online exploration and visualization of PCAWG data. Nat Commun 2020;11(1):3400.Abstract
The Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) project generated a vast amount of whole-genome cancer sequencing resource data. Here, as part of the ICGC/TCGA Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) Consortium, which aggregated whole genome sequencing data from 2658 cancers across 38 tumor types, we provide a user's guide to the five publicly available online data exploration and visualization tools introduced in the PCAWG marker paper. These tools are ICGC Data Portal, UCSC Xena, Chromothripsis Explorer, Expression Atlas, and PCAWG-Scout. We detail use cases and analyses for each tool, show how they incorporate outside resources from the larger genomics ecosystem, and demonstrate how the tools can be used together to understand the biology of cancers more deeply. Together, the tools enable researchers to query the complex genomic PCAWG data dynamically and integrate external information, enabling and enhancing interpretation.
The three-dimensional conformation of a genome can be profiled using Hi-C, a technique that combines chromatin conformation capture with high-throughput sequencing. However, structural variations often yield features that can be mistaken for chromosomal interactions. Here, we describe a computational method HiNT (Hi-C for copy Number variation and Translocation detection), which detects copy number variations and interchromosomal translocations within Hi-C data with breakpoints at single base-pair resolution. We demonstrate that HiNT outperforms existing methods on both simulated and real data. We also show that Hi-C can supplement whole-genome sequencing in structure variant detection by locating breakpoints in repetitive regions.
Combined PARP and immune checkpoint inhibition has yielded encouraging results in ovarian cancer, but predictive biomarkers are lacking. We performed immunogenomic profiling and highly multiplexed single-cell imaging on tumor samples from patients enrolled in a Phase I/II trial of niraparib and pembrolizumab in ovarian cancer (NCT02657889). We identify two determinants of response; mutational signature 3 reflecting defective homologous recombination DNA repair, and positive immune score as a surrogate of interferon-primed exhausted CD8 + T-cells in the tumor microenvironment. Presence of one or both features associates with an improved outcome while concurrent absence yields no responses. Single-cell spatial analysis reveals prominent interactions of exhausted CD8 + T-cells and PD-L1 + macrophages and PD-L1 + tumor cells as mechanistic determinants of response. Furthermore, spatial analysis of two extreme responders shows differential clustering of exhausted CD8 + T-cells with PD-L1 + macrophages in the first, and exhausted CD8 + T-cells with cancer cells harboring genomic PD-L1 and PD-L2 amplification in the second.
Cancer is driven by genetic change, and the advent of massively parallel sequencing has enabled systematic documentation of this variation at the whole-genome scale1-3. Here we report the integrative analysis of 2,658 whole-cancer genomes and their matching normal tissues across 38 tumour types from the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) Consortium of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) and The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). We describe the generation of the PCAWG resource, facilitated by international data sharing using compute clouds. On average, cancer genomes contained 4-5 driver mutations when combining coding and non-coding genomic elements; however, in around 5% of cases no drivers were identified, suggesting that cancer driver discovery is not yet complete. Chromothripsis, in which many clustered structural variants arise in a single catastrophic event, is frequently an early event in tumour evolution; in acral melanoma, for example, these events precede most somatic point mutations and affect several cancer-associated genes simultaneously. Cancers with abnormal telomere maintenance often originate from tissues with low replicative activity and show several mechanisms of preventing telomere attrition to critical levels. Common and rare germline variants affect patterns of somatic mutation, including point mutations, structural variants and somatic retrotransposition. A collection of papers from the PCAWG Consortium describes non-coding mutations that drive cancer beyond those in the TERT promoter4; identifies new signatures of mutational processes that cause base substitutions, small insertions and deletions and structural variation5,6; analyses timings and patterns of tumour evolution7; describes the diverse transcriptional consequences of somatic mutation on splicing, expression levels, fusion genes and promoter activity8,9; and evaluates a range of more-specialized features of cancer genomes8,10-18.
A key mutational process in cancer is structural variation, in which rearrangements delete, amplify or reorder genomic segments that range in size from kilobases to whole chromosomes1-7. Here we develop methods to group, classify and describe somatic structural variants, using data from the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) Consortium of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) and The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), which aggregated whole-genome sequencing data from 2,658 cancers across 38 tumour types8. Sixteen signatures of structural variation emerged. Deletions have a multimodal size distribution, assort unevenly across tumour types and patients, are enriched in late-replicating regions and correlate with inversions. Tandem duplications also have a multimodal size distribution, but are enriched in early-replicating regions-as are unbalanced translocations. Replication-based mechanisms of rearrangement generate varied chromosomal structures with low-level copy-number gains and frequent inverted rearrangements. One prominent structure consists of 2-7 templates copied from distinct regions of the genome strung together within one locus. Such cycles of templated insertions correlate with tandem duplications, and-in liver cancer-frequently activate the telomerase gene TERT. A wide variety of rearrangement processes are active in cancer, which generate complex configurations of the genome upon which selection can act.
Rodriguez-Martin B, Alvarez EG, Baez-Ortega A, Zamora J, Supek F, Demeulemeester J, Santamarina M, Ju YS, Temes J, Garcia-Souto D, Detering H, Li Y, Rodriguez-Castro J, Dueso-Barroso A, Bruzos AL, Dentro SC, Blanco MG, Contino G, Ardeljan D, Tojo M, Roberts ND, Zumalave S, Edwards PAW, Weischenfeldt J, Puiggròs M, Chong Z, Chen K, Lee EA, Wala JA, Raine K, Butler A, Waszak SM, Navarro FCP, Schumacher SE, Monlong J, Maura F, Bolli N, Bourque G, Gerstein M, Park PJ, Wedge DC, Beroukhim R, Torrents D, Korbel JO, Martincorena I, Fitzgerald RC, Van Loo P, Kazazian HH, Burns KH, Group PCAWGSVW, Campbell PJ, Tubio JMC, Consortium PCAWG. Pan-cancer analysis of whole genome identifies driver rearrangements promoted by LINE-1 retrotransposition [Internet]. Nature Genetics 2020;52(3):306-319. Publisher's VersionAbstract
About half of all cancers have somatic integrations of retrotransposons. Here, to characterize their role in oncogenesis, we analyzed the patterns and mechanisms of somatic retrotransposition in 2,954 cancer genomes from 38 histological cancer subtypes within the framework of the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) project. We identified 19,166 somatically acquired retrotransposition events, which affected 35% of samples and spanned a range of event types. Long interspersed nuclear element (LINE-1; L1 hereafter) insertions emerged as the first most frequent type of somatic structural variation in esophageal adenocarcinoma, and the second most frequent in head-and-neck and colorectal cancers. Aberrant L1 integrations can delete megabase-scale regions of a chromosome, which sometimes leads to the removal of tumor-suppressor genes, and can induce complex translocations and large-scale duplications. Somatic retrotranspositions can also initiate breakage-fusion-bridge cycles, leading to high-level amplification of oncogenes. These observations illuminate a relevant role of L1 retrotransposition in remodeling the cancer genome, with potential implications for the development of human tumors.
Cancers require telomere maintenance mechanisms for unlimited replicative potential. They achieve this through TERT activation or alternative telomere lengthening associated with ATRX or DAXX loss. Here, as part of the ICGC/TCGA Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) Consortium, we dissect whole-genome sequencing data of over 2500 matched tumor-control samples from 36 different tumor types aggregated within the ICGC/TCGA Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) Consortium to characterize the genomic footprints of these mechanisms. While the telomere content of tumors with ATRX or DAXX mutations (ATRX/DAXXtrunc) is increased, tumors with TERT modifications show a moderate decrease of telomere content. One quarter of all tumor samples contain somatic integrations of telomeric sequences into non-telomeric DNA. This fraction is increased to 80% prevalence in ATRX/DAXXtrunc tumors, which carry an aberrant telomere variant repeat (TVR) distribution as another genomic marker. The latter feature includes enrichment or depletion of the previously undescribed singleton TVRs TTCGGG and TTTGGG, respectively. Our systematic analysis provides new insight into the recurrent genomic alterations associated with telomere maintenance mechanisms in cancer.
Recent advances in single cell technology have enabled dissection of cellular heterogeneity in great detail. However, analysis of single cell DNA sequencing data remains challenging due to bias and artifacts that arise during DNA extraction and whole-genome amplification, including allelic imbalance and dropout. Here, we present a framework for statistical estimation of allele-specific amplification imbalance at any given position in single cell whole-genome sequencing data by utilizing the allele frequencies of heterozygous single nucleotide polymorphisms in the neighborhood. The resulting allelic imbalance profile is critical for determining whether the variant allele fraction of an observed mutation is consistent with the expected fraction for a true variant. This method, implemented in SCAN-SNV (Single Cell ANalysis of SNVs), substantially improves the identification of somatic variants in single cells. Our allele balance framework is broadly applicable to genotype analysis of any variant type in any data that might exhibit allelic imbalance.
Mutations in BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 (BRCA1/2) are the most common indication of deficiency in the homologous recombination (HR) DNA repair pathway. However, recent genome-wide analyses have shown that the same pattern of mutations found in BRCA1/2-mutant tumors is also present in several other tumors. Here, we present a new computational tool called Signature Multivariate Analysis (SigMA), which can be used to accurately detect the mutational signature associated with HR deficiency from targeted gene panels. Whereas previous methods require whole-genome or whole-exome data, our method detects the HR-deficiency signature even from low mutation counts, by using a likelihood-based measure combined with machine-learning techniques. Cell lines that we identify as HR deficient show a significant response to poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitors; patients with ovarian cancer whom we found to be HR deficient show a significantly longer overall survival with platinum regimens. By enabling panel-based identification of mutational signatures, our method substantially increases the number of patients that may be considered for treatments targeting HR deficiency.
Cancer is often seen as a disease of mutations and chromosomal abnormalities. However, some cancers, including pediatric rhabdoid tumors (RTs), lack recurrent alterations targetable by current drugs and need alternative, informed therapeutic options. To nominate potential targets, we performed a high-throughput small-molecule screen complemented by a genome-scale CRISPR-Cas9 gene-knockout screen in a large number of RT and control cell lines. These approaches converged to reveal several receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) as therapeutic targets, with RTK inhibition effective in suppressing RT cell growth in vitro and against a xenograft model in vivo. RT cell lines highly express and activate (phosphorylate) different RTKs, creating dependency without mutation or amplification. Downstream of RTK signaling, we identified PTPN11, encoding the pro-growth signaling protein SHP2, as a shared dependency across all RT cell lines. This study demonstrates that large-scale perturbational screening can uncover vulnerabilities in cancers with "quiet" genomes.