De S, Michor F. 2011. DNA secondary structures and epigenetic determinants of cancer genome evolution. Nature structural & molecular biology. 18(8):950-5. Pubmed: 21725294 DOI:10.1038/nsmb.2089


An unstable genome is a hallmark of many cancers. It is unclear, however, whether some mutagenic features driving somatic alterations in cancer are encoded in the genome sequence and whether they can operate in a tissue-specific manner. We performed a genome-wide analysis of 663,446 DNA breakpoints associated with somatic copy-number alterations (SCNAs) from 2,792 cancer samples classified into 26 cancer types. Many SCNA breakpoints are spatially clustered in cancer genomes. We observed a significant enrichment for G-quadruplex sequences (G4s) in the vicinity of SCNA breakpoints and established that SCNAs show a strand bias consistent with G4-mediated structural alterations. Notably, abnormal hypomethylation near G4s-rich regions is a common signature for many SCNA breakpoint hotspots. We propose a mechanistic hypothesis that abnormal hypomethylation in genomic regions enriched for G4s acts as a mutagenic factor driving tissue-specific mutational landscapes in cancer.

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Franziska Michor uses the tools of theoretical evolutionary biology, applied mathematics, statistics, and computational biology to address important questions in cancer research.

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