Driver mutations are considered the cornerstone of cancer initiation. They are defined as mutations that convey a competitive fitness advantage, and hence, their mutation frequency in premalignant tissue is expected to exceed the basal mutation rate. In old terms, that translates to “the survival of the fittest” and implies that a selective process underlies the frequency of cancer driver mutations. In that sense, each tissue is its own niche that creates a molecular selective pressure that may favor the propagation of a mutation or not. At the heart of this stands one of the biggest riddles in cancer biology: the tissue-predisposition to cancer driver mutations. The frequency of cancer driver mutations among tissues is non-uniform: for instance, mutations in APC are particularly frequent in colorectal cancer, and 99% of chronic myeloid leukemia patients harbor the driver BCR-ABL1 fusion mutation, which is rarely found in solid tumors. Here, we provide a mechanistic framework that aims to explain how tissue-specific features, ranging from epigenetic underpinnings to the expression of viral transposable elements, establish a molecular basis for selecting cancer driver mutations in a tissue-specific manner.
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- cancer evolution
- driver mutations
- selective pressure