Tumor evolution and intratumor heterogeneity of an oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma revealed by whole-genome sequencing.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.), Volume 15, Issue 12, p.1371-8 (2013)


2013, Clinical Research Division, January 2014, Public Health Sciences Division


Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is characterized by significant genomic instability that could lead to clonal diversity. Intratumor clonal heterogeneity has been proposed as a major attribute underlying tumor evolution, progression, and resistance to chemotherapy and radiation. Understanding genetic heterogeneity could lead to treatments specific to resistant and metastatic tumor cells. To characterize the degree of intratumor genetic heterogeneity within a single tumor, we performed whole-genome sequencing on three separate regions of an human papillomavirus (HPV)-positive oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma and two separate regions from one corresponding cervical lymph node metastasis. This approach achieved coverage of approximately 97.9% of the genome across all samples. In total, 5701 somatic point mutations (SPMs) and 4347 small somatic insertions and deletions (indels)were detected in at least one sample. Ninety-two percent of SPMs and 77% of indels were validated in a second set of samples adjacent to the discovery set. All five tumor samples shared 41% of SPMs, 57% of the 1805 genes with SPMs, and 34 of 55 cancer genes. The distribution of SPMs allowed phylogenetic reconstruction of this tumor's evolutionary pathway and showed that the metastatic samples arose as a late event. The degree of intratumor heterogeneity showed that a single biopsy may not represent the entire mutational landscape of HNSCC tumors. This approach may be used to further characterize intratumor heterogeneity in more patients, and their sample-to-sample variations could reveal the evolutionary process of cancer cells, facilitate our understanding of tumorigenesis, and enable the development of novel targeted therapies.