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Carcinogenesis. 2018 Feb 9;39(2):225-231. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgx133.

Somatic mutation footprinting reveals a unique tetranucleotide signature associated with intron-exon boundaries in lung cancer.

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Division of Systems Biology and Personalised Medicine, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, Australia.
Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland.


Cigarette smoke comprises a large number of carcinogenic substances that can increase DNA mutation load in epithelial cells of the mouth, throat and lungs. While a strong C:A substitution preference is abundant in tobacco-related cancer genomes, detection of complex or less abundant somatic mutation signatures may be confounded by the heterogeneity of carcinogens present in smoke. Trinucleotide signatures are defined for a variety of somatic mutation processes, yet the extent to which this configuration optimally defines and discriminates between mutational processes is not clear. Here, we describe a method that determines whether trinucleotide patterns do a good job at encapsulating a mutation signature or whether they mask underlying heterogeneity that alternative pattern structures would better define. The approach works by mapping the dependency of trinucleotide signatures in relation to sequence context to establish a 'footprint' of context dependency. Applying this technique to smoke-associated cancers, we show that a robust tetranucleotide substitution is prevalent in 17% of lung squamous cell carcinoma genomes. The signature is dominated by the substitution CT(C:A)G and is strongly associated with gene expression level and intron-exon junctions. Intriguingly, its distribution across the genome is biased towards 5' splice junctions, suggesting a novel mechanism of mutation.


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