Radiotherapy is associated with a deletion signature that contributes to poor outcomes in patients with cancer

Nat Genet. 2021 Jul;53(7):1088-1096. doi: 10.1038/s41588-021-00874-3. Epub 2021 May 27.


Ionizing radiation causes DNA damage and is a mainstay for cancer treatment, but understanding of its genomic impact is limited. We analyzed mutational spectra following radiotherapy in 190 paired primary and recurrent gliomas from the Glioma Longitudinal Analysis Consortium and 3,693 post-treatment metastatic tumors from the Hartwig Medical Foundation. We identified radiotherapy-associated significant increases in the burden of small deletions (5-15 bp) and large deletions (20+ bp to chromosome-arm length). Small deletions were characterized by a larger span size, lacking breakpoint microhomology and were genomically more dispersed when compared to pre-existing deletions and deletions in non-irradiated tumors. Mutational signature analysis implicated classical non-homologous end-joining-mediated DNA damage repair and APOBEC mutagenesis following radiotherapy. A high radiation-associated deletion burden was associated with worse clinical outcomes, suggesting that effective repair of radiation-induced DNA damage is detrimental to patient survival. These results may be leveraged to predict sensitivity to radiation therapy in recurrent cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • DNA Damage / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Mutagenesis / radiation effects
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Prognosis
  • Radiation, Ionizing
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects*
  • Sequence Deletion / radiation effects*