Exome-Scale Discovery of Hotspot Mutation Regions in Human Cancer Using 3D Protein Structure

Cancer Res. 2016 Jul 1;76(13):3719-31. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-15-3190. Epub 2016 Apr 28.


The impact of somatic missense mutation on cancer etiology and progression is often difficult to interpret. One common approach for assessing the contribution of missense mutations in carcinogenesis is to identify genes mutated with statistically nonrandom frequencies. Even given the large number of sequenced cancer samples currently available, this approach remains underpowered to detect drivers, particularly in less studied cancer types. Alternative statistical and bioinformatic approaches are needed. One approach to increase power is to focus on localized regions of increased missense mutation density or hotspot regions, rather than a whole gene or protein domain. Detecting missense mutation hotspot regions in three-dimensional (3D) protein structure may also be beneficial because linear sequence alone does not fully describe the biologically relevant organization of codons. Here, we present a novel and statistically rigorous algorithm for detecting missense mutation hotspot regions in 3D protein structures. We analyzed approximately 3 × 10(5) mutations from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and identified 216 tumor-type-specific hotspot regions. In addition to experimentally determined protein structures, we considered high-quality structural models, which increase genomic coverage from approximately 5,000 to more than 15,000 genes. We provide new evidence that 3D mutation analysis has unique advantages. It enables discovery of hotspot regions in many more genes than previously shown and increases sensitivity to hotspot regions in tumor suppressor genes (TSG). Although hotspot regions have long been known to exist in both TSGs and oncogenes, we provide the first report that they have different characteristic properties in the two types of driver genes. We show how cancer researchers can use our results to link 3D protein structure and the biologic functions of missense mutations in cancer, and to generate testable hypotheses about driver mechanisms. Our results are included in a new interactive website for visualizing protein structures with TCGA mutations and associated hotspot regions. Users can submit new sequence data, facilitating the visualization of mutations in a biologically relevant context. Cancer Res; 76(13); 3719-31. ©2016 AACR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / chemistry*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Computational Biology
  • Exome / genetics*
  • Genomics / methods*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Humans
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Protein Conformation


  • Biomarkers, Tumor