Somatic mutations enriched in cis-regulatory elements affect genes involved in embryonic development and immune system response in neuroblastoma

Noncoding cis-regulatory variants have gained interest as cancer drivers, yet progress in understanding their significance is hindered by the numerous challenges and limitations of variant prioritization. To overcome these limitations, we focused on active cis-regulatory elements (aCRE) in order to design a customized panel for the deep sequencing of 56 neuroblastoma tumor and normal DNA sample pairs. In order to search for driver mutations, aCREs were defined by reanalysis of H3K27ac ChiP-seq peaks in 25 neuroblastoma cell lines. These regulatory genomic regions were tested for an excess of somatic mutations and assessed for statistical significance using a global approach that accounted for chromatin accessibility and replication timing. Additional validation was provided by whole genome sequence analysis of 151 neuroblastomas. Analysis of Hi-C data determined the presence of candidate target genes interacting with mutated regions. An excess of somatic mutations in aCREs of diverse genes were identified, including IPO7, HAND2, and ARID3A. CRISPR-Cas9 editing was utilized to assess the functional consequences of mutations in the IPO7 aCRE. Patients with noncoding mutations in aCREs showed inferior overall and event-free survival independent of age at diagnosis, stage, risk stratification, and MYCN status. Expression of aCRE-interacting genes correlated strongly with negative prognostic markers and low survival rates. Moreover, a convergence between the biological functions of aCRE target genes and transcription factors with mutated binding motifs was associated with embryonic development and immune system response. Overall, this strategy enabled the identification of somatic mutations in regulatory elements that collectively promote neuroblastoma tumorigenesis.