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The discovery of cancer driver mutations is a fundamental goal in cancer research. While many cancer driver mutations have been discovered in the protein-coding genome, research into potential cancer drivers in the non-coding regions showed limited success so far. Here, we present a novel comprehensive framework Dr.Nod for detection of non-coding cis-regulatory candidate driver mutations that are associated with dysregulated gene expression using tissue-matched enhancer-gene annotations. Applying the framework to data from over 1500 tumours across eight tissues revealed a 4.4-fold enrichment of candidate driver mutations in regulatory regions of known cancer driver genes. An overarching conclusion that emerges is that the non-coding driver mutations contribute to cancer by significantly altering transcription factor binding sites, leading to upregulation of tissue-matched oncogenes and down-regulation of tumour-suppressor genes. Interestingly, more than half of the detected cancer-promoting non-coding regulatory driver mutations are over 20 kb distant from the cancer-associated genes they regulate. Our results show the importance of tissue-matched enhancer-gene maps, functional impact of mutations, and complex background mutagenesis model for the prediction of non-coding regulatory drivers. In conclusion, our study demonstrates that non-coding mutations in enhancers play a previously underappreciated role in cancer and dysregulation of clinically relevant target genes.

Original publication




Journal article


Nucleic acids research

Publication Date





Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA.


Humans, Neoplasms, Regulatory Sequences, Nucleic Acid, Mutation, Oncogenes