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This article is part of the supplement: SNP-SIG 2012: Identification and annotation of SNPs in the context of structure, function, and disease

Open Access Research

Revealing selection in cancer using the predicted functional impact of cancer mutations. Application to nomination of cancer drivers

B Reva

Author Affiliations

Computational Biology Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 1275 York Avenue, NY 10065, USA

BMC Genomics 2013, 14(Suppl 3):S8  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-S3-S8

Published: 28 May 2013


Every malignant tumor has a unique spectrum of genomic alterations including numerous protein mutations. There are also hundreds of personal germline variants to be taken into account. The combinatorial diversity of potential cancer-driving events limits the applicability of statistical methods to determine tumor-specific "driver" alterations among an overwhelming majority of "passengers". An alternative approach to determining driver mutations is to assess the functional impact of mutations in a given tumor and predict drivers based on a numerical value of the mutation impact in a particular context of genomic alterations.

Recently, we introduced a functional impact score, which assesses the mutation impact by the value of entropic disordering of the evolutionary conservation patterns in proteins. The functional impact score separates disease-associated variants from benign polymorphisms with an accuracy of ~80%. Can the score be used to identify functionally important non-recurrent cancer-driver mutations? Assuming that cancer-drivers are positively selected in tumor evolution, we investigated how the functional impact score correlates with key features of natural selection in cancer, such as the non-uniformity of distribution of mutations, the frequency of affected tumor suppressors and oncogenes, the frequency of concurrent alterations in regions of heterozygous deletions and copy gain; as a control, we used presumably non-selected silent mutations. Using mutations of six cancers studied in TCGA projects, we found that predicted high-scoring functional mutations as well as truncating mutations tend to be evolutionarily selected as compared to low-scoring and silent mutations. This result justifies prediction of mutations-drivers using a shorter list of predicted high-scoring functional mutations, rather than the "long tail" of all mutations.