Rates and Patterns of Clonal Oncogenic Mutations in the Normal Human Brain

Cancer Discov. 2022 Jan;12(1):172-185. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-21-0245. Epub 2021 Aug 13.


Although oncogenic mutations have been found in nondiseased, proliferative nonneural 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 (sSNV) 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 RNA sequencing data from 1,816 nondiseased 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. SIGNIFICANCE: In the nondiseased brain, clonal oncogenic mutations are enriched in white matter and are less common in older individuals. We revealed early steps in acquiring oncogenic variants, which are essential to understanding brain tumor origins and building new mutational baselines for diagnostics.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 1.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oncogenes
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Young Adult