Selected repetitive sequences termed short inverted repeats (SIRs) have the propensity to form secondary DNA structures called hairpins. SIRs comprise palindromic arm sequences separated by short spacer sequences that form the hairpin stem and loop respectively. Here, we show that SIRs confer an increase in localized mutability in breast cancer, which is domain-dependent with the greatest mutability observed within spacer sequences (∼1.35-fold above background). Mutability is influenced by factors that increase the likelihood of formation of hairpins such as loop lengths (of 4-5 bp) and stem lengths (of 7-15 bp). Increased mutability is an intrinsic property of SIRs as evidenced by how almost all mutational processes demonstrate a higher rate of mutagenesis of spacer sequences. We further identified 88 spacer sequences showing enrichment from 1.8- to 90-fold of local mutability distributed across 283 sites in the genome that intriguingly, can be used to inform the biological status of a tumor.
© The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.