Negative selection maintains transcription factor binding motifs in human cancer

Negative selection maintains transcription factor binding motifs in human cancer
I. E. Vorontsov, I. V. Kulakovskiy, G. Khimulya, E. N. Lukianova, D. D. Nikolaeva, I. A. Eliseeva, V. J. Makeev

Somatic mutations in cancer cells affect various genomic elements disrupting important cell functions. In particular, mutations in DNA binding sites recognized by transcription factors can alter regulator binding affinities and expression of target genes. A number of promoter mutations have been linked with an increased risk of cancer, mutations in binding sites of selected transcription factors have been found under positive selection. However, negative selection of mutations in coding regions is elusive and significance of negative selection in non-coding regions remains controversial.
Here we present analysis of transcription factors with binding sites co-localized with non-coding variants. To avoid statistical bias we account for mutation signatures of different cancer types. For many transcription factors, including multiple members of FOX, HOX, and NR families, we show that human cancers accumulate fewer mutations than expected by chance that increase or decrease affinity of binding motifs. Such conservation of motifs is even more exhibited in DNase accessible regions.
Our data demonstrate negative selection against binding sites alterations and suggest that this selection pressure protects cancer cells from rewiring of regulatory circuits. Further analysis of transcription factors and the respective conserved binding motifs can reveal cell regulatory pathways crucial for the survivability of various human cancers.

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