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February 2018



Somatic mutations accumulate in human cells throughout life. Some may have no adverse consequences, but some of them may lead to cancer. A cancer genome is typically unstable, and thus more mutations can accumulate in the DNA of cancer cells. An ongoing problem is to figure out which mutations are drivers - play a role in oncogenesis, and which are passengers - do not play a role. One way of addressing this question is through inspection of somatic mutations in DNA of cancer samples from a cohort of patients and detection of patterns that differentiate driver from passenger mutations.


We propose QuaDMutEx, a method that incorporates three novel elements: a new gene set penalty that includes non-linear penalization of multiple mutations in putative sets of driver genes, an ability to adjust the method to handle slow- and fast-evolving tumors, and a computationally efficient method for finding gene sets that minimize the penalty, through a combination of heuristic Monte Carlo optimization and exact binary quadratic programming. Compared to existing methods, the proposed algorithm finds sets of putative driver genes that show higher coverage and lower excess coverage in eight sets of cancer samples coming from brain, ovarian, lung, and breast tumors.


Superior ability to improve on both coverage and excess coverage on different types of cancer shows that QuaDMutEx is a tool that should be part of a state-of-the-art toolbox in the driver gene discovery pipeline. It can detect genes harboring rare driver mutations that may be missed by existing methods. QuaDMutEx is available for download from under the GNU GPLv3 license.


© The Author(s). 2017 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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