Telomeres are DNA-protein structures at the ends of chromosomes essential in maintaining chromosomal stability. Observational studies have identified associations between telomeres and elevated cancer risk, including hematologic malignancies; but biologic mechanisms relating telomere length to cancer etiology remain unclear. Our study sought to better understand the relationship between telomere length and cancer risk by evaluating genetically-predicted telomere length (gTL) in relation to the presence of clonal somatic copy number alterations (SCNAs) in peripheral blood leukocytes. Genotyping array data were acquired from 431,507 participants in the UK Biobank and used to detect SCNAs from intensity information and infer telomere length using a polygenic risk score (PRS) of variants previously associated with leukocyte telomere length. In total, 15,236 (3.5%) of individuals had a detectable clonal SCNA on an autosomal chromosome. Overall, higher gTL value was positively associated with the presence of an autosomal SCNA (OR = 1.07, 95% CI = 1.05-1.09, P = 1.61×10-15). There was high consistency in effect estimates across strata of chromosomal event location (e.g., telomeric ends, interstitial or whole chromosome event; Phet = 0.37) and strata of copy number state (e.g., gain, loss, or neutral events; Phet = 0.05). Higher gTL value was associated with a greater cellular fraction of clones carrying autosomal SCNAs (β = 0.004, 95% CI = 0.002-0.007, P = 6.61×10-4). Our population-based examination of gTL and SCNAs suggests inherited components of telomere length do not preferentially impact autosomal SCNA event location or copy number status, but rather likely influence cellular replicative potential.
Clonally expanded blood cells that contain somatic mutations (clonal haematopoiesis) are commonly acquired with age and increase the risk of blood cancer. The blood clones identified so far contain diverse large-scale mosaic chromosomal alterations (deletions, duplications and copy-neutral loss of heterozygosity (CN-LOH)) on all chromosomes, but the sources of selective advantage that drive the expansion of most clones remain unknown. Here, to identify genes, mutations and biological processes that give selective advantage to mutant clones, we analysed genotyping data from the blood-derived DNA of 482,789 participants from the UK Biobank. We identified 19,632 autosomal mosaic chromosomal alterations and analysed these for relationships to inherited genetic variation. We found 52 inherited, rare, large-effect coding or splice variants in 7 genes that were associated with greatly increased vulnerability to clonal haematopoiesis with specific acquired CN-LOH mutations. Acquired mutations systematically replaced the inherited risk alleles (at MPL) or duplicated them to the homologous chromosome (at FH, NBN, MRE11, ATM, SH2B3 and TM2D3). Three of the genes (MRE11, NBN and ATM) encode components of the MRN-ATM pathway, which limits cell division after DNA damage and telomere attrition; another two (MPL and SH2B3) encode proteins that regulate the self-renewal of stem cells. In addition, we found that CN-LOH mutations across the genome tended to cause chromosomal segments with alleles that promote the expansion of haematopoietic cells to replace their homologous (allelic) counterparts, increasing polygenic drive for blood-cell proliferation traits. Readily acquired mutations that replace chromosomal segments with their homologous counterparts seem to interact with pervasive inherited variation to create a challenge for lifelong cytopoiesis.
The extent to which the biology of oncogenesis and ageing are shaped by factors that distinguish human populations is unknown. Haematopoietic clones with acquired mutations become common with advancing age and can lead to blood cancers. Here we describe shared and population-specific patterns of genomic mutations and clonal selection in haematopoietic cells on the basis of 33,250 autosomal mosaic chromosomal alterations that we detected in 179,417 Japanese participants in the BioBank Japan cohort and compared with analogous data from the UK Biobank. In this long-lived Japanese population, mosaic chromosomal alterations were detected in more than 35.0% (s.e.m., 1.4%) of individuals older than 90 years, which suggests that such clones trend towards inevitability with advancing age. Japanese and European individuals exhibited key differences in the genomic locations of mutations in their respective haematopoietic clones; these differences predicted the relative rates of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (which is more common among European individuals) and T cell leukaemia (which is more common among Japanese individuals) in these populations. Three different mutational precursors of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (including trisomy 12, loss of chromosomes 13q and 13q, and copy-neutral loss of heterozygosity) were between two and six times less common among Japanese individuals, which suggests that the Japanese and European populations differ in selective pressures on clones long before the development of clinically apparent chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Japanese and British populations also exhibited very different rates of clones that arose from B and T cell lineages, which predicted the relative rates of B and T cell cancers in these populations. We identified six previously undescribed loci at which inherited variants predispose to mosaic chromosomal alterations that duplicate or remove the inherited risk alleles, including large-effect rare variants at NBN, MRE11 and CTU2 (odds ratio, 28-91). We suggest that selective pressures on clones are modulated by factors that are specific to human populations. Further genomic characterization of clonal selection and cancer in populations from around the world is therefore warranted.
Family history of disease can provide valuable information in case-control association studies, but it is currently unclear how to best combine case-control status and family history of disease. We developed an association method based on posterior mean genetic liabilities under a liability threshold model, conditional on case-control status and family history (LT-FH). Analyzing 12 diseases from the UK Biobank (average N = 350,000) we compared LT-FH to genome-wide association without using family history (GWAS) and a previous proxy-based method incorporating family history (GWAX). LT-FH was 63% (standard error (s.e.) 6%) more powerful than GWAS and 36% (s.e. 4%) more powerful than the trait-specific maximum of GWAS and GWAX, based on the number of independent genome-wide-significant loci across all diseases (for example, 690 loci for LT-FH versus 423 for GWAS); relative improvements were similar when applying BOLT-LMM to GWAS, GWAX and LT-FH phenotypes. Thus, LT-FH greatly increases association power when family history of disease is available.