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Metastatic melanoma carries a poor prognosis despite modern systemic therapies. Understanding the evolution of the disease could help inform patient management. Through whole-genome sequencing of 13 melanoma metastases sampled at autopsy from a treatment naive patient and by leveraging the analytical power of multi-sample analyses, we reveal that metastatic cells may depart the primary tumour very early in the disease course and follow a branched pattern of evolution. Truncal UV-induced mutations that often swamp downstream analyses of heterogeneity, were found to be replaced by APOBEC-associated mutations in the branches of the evolutionary tree. Multi-sample analyses from a further 7 patients confirmed that branched evolution was pervasive, representing an important mode of melanoma dissemination. Our analyses illustrate that combining cancer cell fraction estimates across multiple metastases provides higher resolution phylogenetic reconstructions relative to single sample analyses and highlights the limitations of accurately inferring inter-tumoural heterogeneity from a single biopsy.

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