A systematic CRISPR screen defines mutational mechanisms underpinning signatures caused by replication errors and endogenous DNA damage
Mutational signatures are imprints of pathophysiological processes arising through tumorigenesis. Here, we generate isogenic CRISPR-Cas9 knockouts (∆) of 43 genes in human induced pluripotent stem cells, culture them in the absence of added DNA damage, and perform whole-genome sequencing of 173 daughter subclones. ∆OGG1, ∆UNG, ∆EXO1, ∆RNF168, ∆MLH1, ∆MSH2, ∆MSH6, ∆PMS1, and ∆PMS2 produce marked mutational signatures indicative of being critical mitigators of endogenous DNA changes. Detailed analyses reveal that 8-oxo-dG removal by different repair proteins is sequence-context-specific while uracil clearance is sequence-context-independent. Signatures of mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency show components of C>A transversions due to oxidative damage, T>C and C>T transitions due to differential misincorporation by replicative polymerases, and T>A transversions for which we propose a ‘reverse template slippage’ model. ∆MLH1, ∆MSH6, and ∆MSH2 signatures are similar to each other but distinct from ∆PMS2. We validate these gene-specificities in cells from patients with Constitutive Mismatch Repair Deficiency Syndrome. Based on these experimental insights, we develop a classifier, MMRDetect, to detect MMR-deficient tumors. Application of MMRDetect to 7359 WGS cancers shows improved clinical detection of patients with MMR deficient whom could have responsiveness to immunotherapy agents.