Rates and patterns of clonal oncogenic mutations in the normal human brain

Cancer Discov. 2021 Aug 13;candisc.0245.2021. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-21-0245. Online ahead of print.


While oncogenic mutations have been found in non-diseased, proliferative non-neural tissues, their prevalence in the human brain is unknown. Targeted sequencing of genes implicated in brain tumors in 418 samples derived from 110 individuals of varying ages, without tumor diagnoses, detected oncogenic somatic single-nucleotide variants (sSNVs) in 5.4% of the brains, including IDH1 R132H. These mutations were largely present in subcortical white matter and enriched in glial cells, and surprisingly, were less common in older individuals. A depletion of high-allele frequency sSNVs representing macroscopic clones with age was replicated by analysis of bulk RNAseq data from 1,816 non-diseased brain samples ranging from fetal to old age. We also describe large clonal copy number variants, and that sSNVs show mutational signatures resembling those found in gliomas, suggesting that mutational processes of the normal brain drive early glial oncogenesis. This study helps understand the origin and early evolution of brain tumors.