Using deep sequencing technology, methods based on the sporadic acquisition of somatic DNA mutations in human tissues have been used to trace the clonal evolution of progenitor cells in diseased states. However, the potential of these approaches to explore cell fate behavior of normal tissues and the initiation of preneoplasia remain underexploited. Focusing on the results of a recent deep sequencing study of eyelid epidermis, we show that the quantitative analysis of mutant clone size provides a general method to resolve the pattern of normal stem cell fate and to detect and characterize the mutational signature of rare field transformations in human tissues, with implications for the early detection of preneoplasia.
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