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PLoS Comput Biol. 2019 Jul 29;15(7):e1007243. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007243. eCollection 2019 Jul.

Spatially constrained tumour growth affects the patterns of clonal selection and neutral drift in cancer genomic data.

Author information

Evolutionary Genomics and Modelling Lab, Centre for Evolution and Cancer, The Institute of Cancer Research, London, United Kingdom.
Evolution and Cancer Lab, Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London, London, United Kingdom.


Quantification of the effect of spatial tumour sampling on the patterns of mutations detected in next-generation sequencing data is largely lacking. Here we use a spatial stochastic cellular automaton model of tumour growth that accounts for somatic mutations, selection, drift and spatial constraints, to simulate multi-region sequencing data derived from spatial sampling of a neoplasm. We show that the spatial structure of a solid cancer has a major impact on the detection of clonal selection and genetic drift from both bulk and single-cell sequencing data. Our results indicate that spatial constrains can introduce significant sampling biases when performing multi-region bulk sampling and that such bias becomes a major confounding factor for the measurement of the evolutionary dynamics of human tumours. We also propose a statistical inference framework that incorporates spatial effects within a growing tumour and so represents a further step forwards in the inference of evolutionary dynamics from genomic data. Our analysis shows that measuring cancer evolution using next-generation sequencing while accounting for the numerous confounding factors remains challenging. However, mechanistic model-based approaches have the potential to capture the sources of noise and better interpret the data.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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