Perturbations of the coding genome and their role in cancer development have been studied extensively. However, the non-coding genome's contribution in cancer is poorly understood (1), not only because it is difficult to define the non-coding regulatory regions and the genes they regulate, but also because there is limited power owing to the regulatory regions' small size. In this study, we try to resolve this issue by defining modules of coordinated non-coding regulatory regions of genes (Cis Regulatory Domains or CRDs). To do so, we use the correlation between histone modifications, assayed by ChIP-seq, in population samples of immortalized B-cells and skin fibroblasts. We screen for CRDs that accumulate an excess of somatic mutations in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and skin cancer, which affect these cell types, after accounting for somatic mutational patterns and biases. At 5% FDR, we find 90 CRDs with significant excess somatic of mutations in CLL, 60 of which regulate 126 genes, and in skin cancer 59 significant CRDs, 25 of which regulate 37 genes. The genes these CRDs regulate include ones already implicated in tumorigenesis, and are enriched in pathways already implicated in the respective cancers, like the B-cell receptor signalling pathway in CLL and the TGF β signalling pathway in skin cancer. We discover that the somatic mutations in the significant CRDs of CLL are hitting bases more likely to be functional than the mutations in non-significant CRDs. Moreover, in both cancers, mutational signatures observed in the regulatory regions of significant CRDs deviate significantly from their null sequences. Both results indicate selection acting on CRDs during tumorigenesis. Finally, we find that the transcription factor biding sites that are disturbed by the somatic mutations in significant CRDs are enriched for factors known to be involved in cancer development. We are describing a new powerful approach to discover non-coding regions involved in tumorigenesis in CLL and skin cancer and this approach could be generalized to other cancers.
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