Non-canonical secondary structures arising from non-B DNA motifs are determinants of mutagenesis
Somatic mutations show variation in density across cancer genomes. Previous studies have shown that chromatin organization and replication time domains are correlated with and thus predictive of this variation. Here, we analyse 1,809 whole-genome sequences from nine cancer types to show that a subset of repetitive DNA sequences called non-B motifs that predict non-canonical secondary structure formation can independently account for variation in mutation density. However, combined with epigenetic factors and replication timing, the variance explained can be improved to 43-76%. Intriguingly, ~2-fold mutation enrichment is observed directly within non-B motifs, is focused on exposed structural components, and is dependent on physical properties that are optimal for secondary structure formation. Therefore, there is mounting evidence that secondary structures arising from non-B motifs are not simply associated with increased mutation density, they are possibly causally implicated. Our results suggest that they are determinants of mutagenesis and increase the likelihood of recurrent mutations in the genome. This analysis calls for caution in the interpretation of recurrent mutations and highlights the importance of taking non-B motifs, that can simply be inferred from the reference sequence, into consideration in background models of mutability henceforth.
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