As a genetic disease, cancer is caused by the activation of oncogenes and the inhibition of tumor suppressor genes via genetic and epigenetic mechanisms. Given the important role of energy metabolism in tumors, we analyzed the cancer-derived mutations occurring in the DNA of the mitochondrion. Mutations in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) compared to nuclear DNA are 62% decreased relative to the coding length per chromosome. We find that the majority of these mutations affects highly conserved nucleotides - significantly exceeding the conservation of the mtDNA - and are devoid of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Surprisingly, the leading resources for tumor genetics information universally use the standard genetic code for translation of nucleotide into amino acid sequences in their online resources. However, the nuclear and mitochondrial genetic codes differ for four codons and the usage of incomplete STOP codons. Hence, we analyze and curate the consequences for all mutations in the mtDNA and comprehensively reclassify missense, nonsense and synonymous mutations accordingly. In total, 10% of the mutations are incorrectly translated leading to significant changes in the distribution of mutation types with tripling of nonsense and 69% loss of nonstop extension mutations. Lastly, we provide a curated dataset of coding and non-coding mitochondrial mutations in cancer merged, standardized, duplicate-free and aggregated from two databases as a resource including orthogonal data on their high conservation and SNPs. This study generally highlights the need to universally regard the important differences between the standard and mitochondrial genetic code in life science research.
Keywords: Mitochondria; cancer; curation; genetic code; mutations.