Inferring parameters of cancer evolution in chronic lymphocytic leukemia

PLoS Comput Biol. 2022 Nov 4;18(11):e1010677. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1010677. eCollection 2022 Nov.


As a cancer develops, its cells accrue new mutations, resulting in a heterogeneous, complex genomic profile. We make use of this heterogeneity to derive simple, analytic estimates of parameters driving carcinogenesis and reconstruct the timeline of selective events following initiation of an individual cancer, where two longitudinal samples are available for sequencing. Using stochastic computer simulations of cancer growth, we show that we can accurately estimate mutation rate, time before and after a driver event occurred, and growth rates of both initiated cancer cells and subsequently appearing subclones. We demonstrate that in order to obtain accurate estimates of mutation rate and timing of events, observed mutation counts should be corrected to account for clonal mutations that occurred after the founding of the tumor, as well as sequencing coverage. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), which often does not require treatment for years after diagnosis, presents an optimal system to study the untreated, natural evolution of cancer cell populations. When we apply our methodology to reconstruct the individual evolutionary histories of CLL patients, we find that the parental leukemic clone typically appears within the first fifteen years of life.

MeSH terms

  • Clonal Evolution / genetics
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell* / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Mutation Rate

Grant support

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.