Cancer genomes tolerate deleterious coding mutations through somatic copy number amplifications of wild-type regions

Alfieri, Fabio; Caravagna, Giulio; Schaefer, Martin H 2023. Nature Communications


Cancers evolve under the accumulation of thousands of somatic mutations and chromosomal aberrations. While most coding mutations are deleterious, almost all protein-coding genes lack detectable signals of negative selection. This raises the question of how tumors tolerate such large amounts of deleterious mutations. Using 8,690 tumor samples from The Cancer Genome Atlas, we demonstrate that copy number amplifications frequently cover haploinsufficient genes in mutation-prone regions. This could increase tolerance towards the deleterious impact of mutations by creating safe copies of wild-type regions and, hence, protecting the genes therein. Our findings demonstrate that these potential buffering events are highly influenced by gene functions, essentiality, and mutation impact and that they occur early during tumor evolution. We show how cancer type-specific mutation landscapes drive copy number alteration patterns across cancer types. Ultimately, our work paves the way for the detection of novel cancer vulnerabilities by revealing genes that fall within amplifications likely selected during evolution to mitigate the effect of mutations.