Single-cell whole-genome sequencing reveals the functional landscape of somatic mutations in B lymphocytes across the human lifespan
The accumulation of mutations in somatic cells have been implicated as a cause of ageing since the 1950s. Yet, attempts to establish a causal relationship between somatic mutations and ageing have been constrained by the lack of methods to directly identify mutational events in primary human tissues. Here we provide detailed, genome-wide mutation frequencies and spectra of human B lymphocytes from healthy individuals across the entire human lifespan, from newborns to centenarians, using a recently developed, highly accurate single-cell whole-genome sequencing method. We found that the number of somatic mutations increases from <500 per cell in newborns to >3,000 per cell in centenarians. We discovered mutational hotspot regions, some of which, as expected, located at immunoglobulin genes associated with somatic hypermutation. B cell-specific mutation signatures were observed associated with development, ageing or somatic hypermutation (SHM). The SHM signature strongly correlated with the signature found in human chronic lymphocytic leukemia and malignant B-cell lymphomas, indicating that even in B cells of healthy individuals the potential cancer-causing events are already present. We also identified multiple mutations in sequence features relevant to cellular function, i.e., transcribed genes and gene regulatory regions. Such mutations increased significantly during ageing, but only at approximately half the rate of the genome average, indicating selection against mutations that impact B cell function. This first full characterization of the landscape of somatic mutations in human B lymphocytes indicates that spontaneous somatic mutations accumulating with age can be deleterious and may contribute to both the increased risk for leukemia and the functional decline of B lymphocytes in the elderly.
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