Detection of long repeat expansions from PCR-free whole-genome sequence data

Identifying large expansions of short tandem repeats (STRs) such as those that cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and fragile X syndrome is challenging for short-read whole-genome sequencing (WGS) data. A solution to this problem is an important step towards integrating WGS into precision medicine. We have developed a software tool called ExpansionHunter that, using PCR-free WGS short-read data, can genotype repeats at the locus of interest, even if the expanded repeat is larger than the read length. We applied our algorithm to WGS data from 3,001 ALS patients who have been tested for the presence of the C9orf72 repeat expansion with repeat-primed PCR (RP-PCR). Compared against this truth data, ExpansionHunter correctly classified all (212/212, 95% CI [0.98, 1.00]) of the expanded samples as either expansions (208) or potential expansions (4). Additionally, 99.9% (2,786/2,789, 95% CI [0.997, 1.00]) of the wild type samples were correctly classified as wild type by this method with the remaining three samples identified as possible expansions. We further applied our algorithm to a set of 152 samples where every sample had one of eight different pathogenic repeat expansions including those associated with fragile X syndrome, Friedreich’s ataxia and Huntington’s disease and correctly flagged all but one of the known repeat expansions. Thus, ExpansionHunter can be used to accurately detect known pathogenic repeat expansions and provides researchers with a tool that can be used to identify new pathogenic repeat expansions. The software is licensed under GPL v3.0 and the source code is freely available on GitHub.

Genome Research, Published in Advance September 8, 2017, doi:10.1101/gr.225672.117


Other Contributors

Dolzhenko E, van Vugt JJFA, Shaw RJ, Bekritsky MA, van Blitterswijk M, Ajay SS, Rajan V, Kingsbury Z, Humphray SJ, Schellevis RD, Brands WJ, Baker M, Rademakers R, Kooyman M, Tazelaar GHP, van Es MA, McLaughlin R, Sproviero W, Shatunov A, Jones A, Khleifat AA, Pittman A, Morgan S, Hardiman O, Al-Chalabi A, Shaw C, Smith B, Neo EJ, Morrison K, Shaw PJ, Reeves C, Winterkorn L, Wexler NS, The US-Venezuela Collaborative Research Group, Housman DE, Ng C, Li A, Taft RJ, van den Berg LH, Bentley DR, Veldink JH, Eberle MA.