BACKGROUND - Cancer genomes harbor hundreds to thousands of somatic nonsynonymous mutations. DNA damage and deficiency of DNA repair systems are two major forces to cause somatic mutations, marking cancer genomes with specific somatic mutation patterns. Recently, several pan-cancer genome studies revealed more than 20 mutation signatures across multiple cancer types. However, detailed cancer-type specific mutation signatures and their different features within (intra-) and between (inter-) cancer types remain largely unexplored.
METHODS - We employed a matrix decomposition algorithm, namely Non-negative Matrix Factorization, to survey the somatic mutations in nine major human cancers, involving a total of ~2100 genomes.
RESULTS - Our results revealed 3-5 independent mutational signatures in each cancer, implying that a range of 3-5 predominant mutational processes likely underlie each cancer genome. Both mutagen exposure (tobacco and sun) and changes in DNA repair systems (APOBEC family, POLE, and MLH1) were found as mutagenesis forces, each of which marks the genome with an evident mutational signature. We studied the features of several signatures and their combinatory patterns within and across cancers. On one hand, we found each signature may influence a cancer genome with different influential magnitudes even in the same cancer type and the signature-specific load reflects intra-cancer heterogeneity (e.g., the smoking-related signature in lung cancer smokers and never smokers). On the other hand, inter-cancer heterogeneity is characterized by combinatory patterns of mutational signatures, where no cancers share the same signature profile, even between two lung cancer subtypes (lung adenocarcinoma and squamous cell lung cancer).
CONCLUSIONS - Our work provides a detailed overview of the mutational characteristics in each of nine major cancers and highlights that the mutational signature profile is representative of each cancer.