Background: The somatic genetic basis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a common and clinically heterogeneous leukemia occurring in adults, remains poorly understood.
Methods: We obtained DNA samples from leukemia cells in 91 patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and performed massively parallel sequencing of 88 whole exomes and whole genomes, together with sequencing of matched germline DNA, to characterize the spectrum of somatic mutations in this disease.
Results: Nine genes that are mutated at significant frequencies were identified, including four with established roles in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (TP53 in 15% of patients, ATM in 9%, MYD88 in 10%, and NOTCH1 in 4%) and five with unestablished roles (SF3B1, ZMYM3, MAPK1, FBXW7, and DDX3X). SF3B1, which functions at the catalytic core of the spliceosome, was the second most frequently mutated gene (with mutations occurring in 15% of patients). SF3B1 mutations occurred primarily in tumors with deletions in chromosome 11q, which are associated with a poor prognosis in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. We further discovered that tumor samples with mutations in SF3B1 had alterations in pre-messenger RNA (mRNA) splicing.
Conclusions: Our study defines the landscape of somatic mutations in chronic lymphocytic leukemia and highlights pre-mRNA splicing as a critical cellular process contributing to chronic lymphocytic leukemia.