The rate and spectrum of mosaic mutations during embryogenesis revealed by RNA sequencing of 49 tissues

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Background: Mosaic mutations acquired during early embryogenesis can lead to severe early-onset genetic disorders and cancer predisposition, but are often undetectable in blood samples. The rate and mutational spectrum of embryonic mosaic mutations (EMMs) have only been studied in few tissues, and their contribution to genetic disorders is unknown. Therefore, we investigated how frequent mosaic mutations occur during embryogenesis across all germ layers and tissues. Methods: Mosaic mutation detection in 49 normal tissues from 570 individuals (Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) cohort) was performed using a newly developed multi-tissue, multi-individual variant calling approach for RNA-seq data. Our method allows for reliable identification of EMMs and the developmental stage during which they appeared. Results: The analysis of EMMs in 570 individuals revealed that newborns on average harbor 0.5-1 EMMs in the exome affecting multiple organs (1.3230 × 10-8 per nucleotide per individual), a similar frequency as reported for germline de novo mutations. Our multi-tissue, multi-individual study design allowed us to distinguish mosaic mutations acquired during different stages of embryogenesis and adult life, as well as to provide insights into the rate and spectrum of mosaic mutations. We observed that EMMs are dominated by a mutational signature associated with spontaneous deamination of methylated cytosines and the number of cell divisions. After birth, cells continue to accumulate somatic mutations, which can lead to the development of cancer. Investigation of the mutational spectrum of the gastrointestinal tract revealed a mutational pattern associated with the food-borne carcinogen aflatoxin, a signature that has so far only been reported in liver cancer. Conclusions: In summary, our multi-tissue, multi-individual study reveals a surprisingly high number of embryonic mosaic mutations in coding regions, implying novel hypotheses and diagnostic procedures for investigating genetic causes of disease and cancer predisposition.




Muyas, F., Zapata, L., Guigó, R., & Ossowski, S. (2020). The rate and spectrum of mosaic mutations during embryogenesis revealed by RNA sequencing of 49 tissues. Genome Medicine, 12(1).

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