Background: Chromothripsis is a recently discovered phenomenon of genomic rearrangement, possibly arising during a single genome-shattering event. This could provide an alternative paradigm in cancer development, replacing the gradual accumulation of genomic changes with a "one-off" catastrophic event. However, the term has been used with varying operational definitions, with the minimal consensus being a large number of locally clustered copy number aberrations. The mechanisms underlying these chromothripsis-like patterns (CTLP) and their specific impact on tumorigenesis are still poorly understood.
Results: Here, we identified CTLP in 918 cancer samples, from a dataset of more than 22,000 oncogenomic arrays covering 132 cancer types. Fragmentation hotspots were found to be located on chromosome 8, 11, 12 and 17. Among the various cancer types, soft-tissue tumors exhibited particularly high CTLP frequencies. Genomic context analysis revealed that CTLP rearrangements frequently occurred in genomes that additionally harbored multiple copy number aberrations (CNAs). An investigation into the affected chromosomal regions showed a large proportion of arm-level pulverization and telomere related events, which would be compatible to a number of underlying mechanisms. We also report evidence that these genomic events may be correlated with patient age, stage and survival rate.
Conclusions: Through a large-scale analysis of oncogenomic array data sets, this study characterized features associated with genomic aberrations patterns, compatible to the spectrum of "chromothripsis"-definitions as previously used. While quantifying clustered genomic copy number aberrations in cancer samples, our data indicates an underlying biological heterogeneity behind these chromothripsis-like patterns, beyond a well defined "chromthripsis" phenomenon.