Contrasting somatic mutation patterns in aging human neurons and oligodendrocytes

Cell. 2024 Apr 11;187(8):1955-1970.e23. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2024.02.025. Epub 2024 Mar 18.


Characterizing somatic mutations in the brain is important for disentangling the complex mechanisms of aging, yet little is known about mutational patterns in different brain cell types. Here, we performed whole-genome sequencing (WGS) of 86 single oligodendrocytes, 20 mixed glia, and 56 single neurons from neurotypical individuals spanning 0.4-104 years of age and identified >92,000 somatic single-nucleotide variants (sSNVs) and small insertions/deletions (indels). Although both cell types accumulate somatic mutations linearly with age, oligodendrocytes accumulated sSNVs 81% faster than neurons and indels 28% slower than neurons. Correlation of mutations with single-nucleus RNA profiles and chromatin accessibility from the same brains revealed that oligodendrocyte mutations are enriched in inactive genomic regions and are distributed across the genome similarly to mutations in brain cancers. In contrast, neuronal mutations are enriched in open, transcriptionally active chromatin. These stark differences suggest an assortment of active mutagenic processes in oligodendrocytes and neurons.

Keywords: aging; brain cancer; brain disorders; glial cells; glioma; gliomagenesis; oligodendrocyte precursor cells; oligodendrocytes; somatic mutations.

MeSH terms

  • Aging* / genetics
  • Aging* / pathology
  • Biological Specimen Banks
  • Brain* / metabolism
  • Brain* / pathology
  • Chromatin / genetics
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Humans
  • INDEL Mutation
  • Mutation
  • Neurons* / metabolism
  • Neurons* / pathology
  • Oligodendrocyte Precursor Cells / metabolism
  • Oligodendrocyte Precursor Cells / pathology
  • Oligodendroglia* / metabolism
  • Oligodendroglia* / pathology
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Single-Cell Gene Expression Analysis
  • Whole Genome Sequencing


  • Chromatin