Mutations in protein-coding genes are well established as the basis for human cancer, yet how alterations within noncoding genome, a substantial fraction of which contain cis-regulatory elements (CRE), contribute to cancer pathophysiology remains elusive. Here, we developed an integrative approach to systematically identify and characterize noncoding regulatory variants with functional consequences in human hematopoietic malignancies. Combining targeted resequencing of hematopoietic lineage-associated CREs and mutation discovery, we uncovered 1,836 recurrently mutated CREs containing leukemia-associated noncoding variants. By enhanced CRISPR/dCas9-based CRE perturbation screening and functional analyses, we identified 218 variant-associated oncogenic or tumor-suppressive CREs in human leukemia. Noncoding variants at KRAS and PER2 enhancers reside in proximity to nuclear receptor (NR) binding regions and modulate transcriptional activities in response to NR signaling in leukemia cells. NR binding sites frequently colocalize with noncoding variants across cancer types. Hence, recurrent noncoding variants connect enhancer dysregulation with nuclear receptor signaling in hematopoietic malignancies. SIGNIFICANCE: We describe an integrative approach to identify noncoding variants in human leukemia, and reveal cohorts of variant-associated oncogenic and tumor-suppressive cis-regulatory elements including KRAS and PER2 enhancers. Our findings support a model in which noncoding regulatory variants connect enhancer dysregulation with nuclear receptor signaling to modulate gene programs in hematopoietic malignancies.See related commentary by van Galen, p. 646.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 627.
©2020 American Association for Cancer Research.