A body map of somatic mutagenesis in morphologically normal human tissues

Nature. 2021 Sep;597(7876):398-403. doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03836-1. Epub 2021 Aug 25.


Somatic mutations that accumulate in normal tissues are associated with ageing and disease1,2. Here we performed a comprehensive genomic analysis of 1,737 morphologically normal tissue biopsies of 9 organs from 5 donors. We found that somatic mutation accumulations and clonal expansions were widespread, although to variable extents, in morphologically normal human tissues. Somatic copy number alterations were rarely detected, except for in tissues from the oesophagus and cardia. Endogenous mutational processes with the SBS1 and SBS5 mutational signatures are ubiquitous among normal tissues, although they exhibit different relative activities. Exogenous mutational processes operate in multiple tissues from the same donor. We reconstructed the spatial somatic clonal architecture with sub-millimetre resolution. In the oesophagus and cardia, macroscopic somatic clones that expanded to hundreds of micrometres were frequently seen, whereas in tissues such as the colon, rectum and duodenum, somatic clones were microscopic in size and evolved independently, possibly restricted by local tissue microstructures. Our study depicts a body map of somatic mutations and clonal expansions from the same individual.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biopsy
  • Cadaver
  • Cardia / metabolism
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Clone Cells / cytology
  • Clone Cells / metabolism*
  • Esophagus / metabolism
  • Female
  • Genomics
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mutagenesis*
  • Mutation*
  • Organ Specificity*